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India, Pakistan Take Steps to Boost Trade

April 16, 2012

Kurt Achin | New Delhi, India

India and Pakistan have inaugurated a new trading post on the heavily militarized Attari-Wagah border between the two countries. The move follows an important symbolic visit by Pakistan's president to New Delhi last week, and coincides with a groundbreaking Pakistan trade fair in the Indian capital.

It is music to the ears of merchants on either side of the India-Pakistan border.

Top trade officials from both countries cut the ribbon recently on the four-day “Lifestyle Pakistan” trade fair in New Delhi - bringing, in their words, a who's who of hundreds of Pakistan's top exporters to town.

Indians - never shy about shopping - are relishing the opportunity to purchase Pakistani textiles.

"Actually the patterns are lovely, the vibrant colors, especially the flow and the texture, they are really different from what we get normally in Delhi," said Sonal, an Indian shopper.

While the expo is mainly driven by clothing, other products like furniture, jewelry, and sculpted onyx chess sets also are available at a discount.

The deadly 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people in Mumbai brought India-Pakistan dialogue to a screeching halt. India blames Pakistan for the attacks, and still demands justice, but much has changed since then.

Both sides have come to view trade as an important vehicle for people-to-people contact.

Hanah Khan, a clothing merchant, might never have gotten permission to visit the Indian capital if not for the expo.

"I always wanted to come to India. This is just home. It's home. I want to eat. I want to shop at these typical Indian bazaars and just go around everywhere," she said.

Issues like the ongoing dispute over Kashmir have gridlocked Indo-Pakistani relations for decades. But Indian shoppers like Inderpal Singh say a more practical strain of society just wants the two countries to interact normally.

"If you ask any common man walking on the street, he has got no animosity with Pakistan. Everybody wants cricket to start up. Everybody wants trade to start up. It is better for both the countries," said Singh.

Pakistani clothing trader Huzaifa Gisa Bhai said both sides have a lot to gain.

"If the trade gets easier, then the volumes of the business can get big. And both ways, if it opens in Pakistan also and in India also, both can prosper. We have good opportunities. In both countries we have opportunities," said Bhai.

India and Pakistan have promised to nearly triple their trade volume to $6 billion over the next three years. To accomplish that there will have to be looser visa requirements, fewer trade restrictions, and smoother banking mechanisms for two currencies that are not mutually convertible.

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