February 2016 News

Kashmir Willow Set To Cross LoC, Boost Trade With Pak

2 February 2016
The Hindu
Arun S. Nair and Vijaita Singh

New Delhi: Despite the Pathankot terror attack destabilising the normalisation of ties with Pakistan, India may soon begin a different kind of 'cricket diplomacy' to boost the bilateral trade across the Line of Control (LoC) and as a major confidence-building measure (CBM). The list of tradable items is likely to be substantially expanded from the current 21 (of mainly garments, handicrafts, carpets, agricultural items), by allowing, among others, Kashmir willow used to make cricket bats, a senior official told The Hindu. Other items that could be included in the list are leather goods, spices, pulses, jams and fruit juices. These were included among the 'probable trade items' on the request of the late Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The new list will include goods that can be exported to Pakistan mainly from J&K to ensure that the State benefits economically. This follows discussions between the Ministries of Home, External Affairs and Commerce. Though there were suggestions to increase the number of items to over 70, or even allow trade in all items barring a few (called the negative list), the final list is being worked out. 'The final call has to be taken by the External Affairs Ministry. These items were suggested on the Jammu and Kashmir government's request as they wanted to promote items produced in the State itself. It also depends how and when Pakistan responds to a meeting of the Joint Working Group, which has yet not been held,' said the official. Suggestions received by the government to improve the cross-LoC trade include better physical infrastructure (such as roads) and telecommunication systems, banking facilities to facilitate payments instead of the prevailing barter trade, easing border crossing processes, greater cooperation between trade bodies of both the sides and increasing the number of days allowed for LoC trade from the current four days a week from Tuesday to Friday. The recommendations also included granting multi-entry permit for traders and setting up full-body truck scanners. The cross-LoC trade, which began in October 2008, takes place mainly though the Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes. The trade across LoC has so far touched Rs. 3,500 crore, with the Indian side exporting goods worth Rs. 1,900 crore while importing goods worth Rs. 1,600 crore from Pakistan. As of now, there are about 300 traders registered for the LoC trade, down from 600 in 2008.