Pak-India trade deal hits roadblock at GHQ

ISLAMABAD: The much touted Pakistan-India trade deal almost ready for roll-out has come to a sudden and grinding halt. It is widely speculated that the country’s military establishment has thrown the spanner in the works as it is not quite convinced about the deal with India despite assurances from a team of ministers who went to the General Headquarters (GHQ) on Friday, 20th Mar 2014, to explain the lie of the land to the generals.  

The News reports that for now, the trade deal with India under a liberalised regime is on hold. The government has been forced to postpone Friday’s cabinet meeting as the response of the military establishment is still awaited. The News quotes top sources in the military establishment as saying that they are quiet about the deal, as the GHQ has so far neither accepted nor rejected it. The next date for approval of the trade deal with India has not been fixed. But The Nation reports that the delay does not owe to a lack of agreement between the civilian and military wings of government. It says the postponement of Friday’s cabinet meet meant to actually approve the trade is because of the Pakistan premier’s busy schedule.  He is leaving for The Hague to attend the summit on nuclear security starting from Monday, March 24th 2014, and the next tentative date of the meeting could be either March 28th 2014 or it could further slip down to the first week of April 2014.

The News reports that preparations are already at an advanced stage to hold one or more ceremonies to inaugurate the deal and the likely sites for these events include Islamabad, New Delhi or the Wagah border.

Originally, both the countries planned to initiate trade under a liberalised regime by April 1st, 2014. Under the deal, the existing negative list of 1,209 items will be abolished and trade at the Wagah border will be opened round the clock.

According to The Nation, the Pakistan government has completed homework for granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, which has been rephrased as Non-discriminatory Market Access (NDMA), and all the stakeholders were taken on board before placing the matter on the cabinet’s agenda.

The term NDMA it says was coined to avoid the negativity associated with the word ‘MFN’ by the PML-N government to avoid criticism from the cross section of society, particularly the rightwing elements.

But some knowledgeable parliamentarians sitting on opposition benches termed the deferment of the matter a meaningful development, as according to them some powerful stakeholders in the system were strongly opposing NDMA status to India.

They admit that giving NDMA status to India would greatly benefit the people of Pakistan in the form of availability of various commodities at cheaper rates. However, The Nation reports that some parliamentarians in the ruling party, who did not want to disclose their identity, said the matter of granting NDMA status could be delayed till the forthcoming general elections are over in India (end-May) and a new government takes charge. This they say would give the government another three to four months to ponder on the issue and evolve its strategy.  TRANS ASIA NEWS

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