India, Pak officials to discuss cross-LoC trade issue

'Consider Pakistani farmers' plight before Indo-Pak trade deal'NEW DELHI : Indian and Pakistani officials will meet here on Tuesday to fine tune the mechanism for cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade in Jammu and Kashmir, including urgent redressal of issues arising out of illegal practices.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of tension along the LoC after the arrest of a driver from Pakistan-occupied- Kashmir (PoK) for allegedly smuggling ‘brown sugar’ worth Rs 100 crore on January 17.
That resulted in disruption of the trade between the two sides of Kashmir, which resumed only in the last week of February.
Following resumption of trade in Kashmir, the two sides had agreed to hold a Joint Working Group meeting to make a holistic review of trade along the LoC.
In view of this, the two sides will be meeting on March 4 where Pakistani side will be represented by Director General (South Asia) Riffat Masood and Indian side will be headed by a Joint Secretary from Ministry of External Affairs, official sources said.
Ahead of this meeting, internal deliberations were held with various stakeholders in LoC trade over the agenda for the meeting.
During the talks, it was decided that India will try and work out a formula with Pakistan for increasing the volume of trade by including some more items in the import and export list.
At present, the two sides have agreed for trade of 21 items among which are carpets, rugs, honey, papier mache, saffron, medicinal herbs from Uri to Chakotti (PoK), precious stones, Peshawari leather chappals, foam mattresses, shawls and stoles and black mushrooms from PoK to Jammu and Kashmir.
There has been demand from various trading federations from the State for expanding the list.
It was also decided that both sides will review the latest development of the case pertaining to brown sugar seizure and work out a formula to deal with such incidents in future.
The meeting was attended by officials from External, Home and Finance ministries, banks, security agencies, Army and the State Government.
The Indian side may again raise its demand for routing the cross-LoC trade through banking channels rather than the barter system being practised at present as it is reasoned that this would give a fillip to the trade between the two parts of Kashmir, the sources said.
From 2008 till January, goods worth Rs 345 crore were exported while Rs 600 crore worth of items were imported from Chakan Da Bagh side in Jammu region.
In Kashmir’s Uri-Muzaffarabad, goods worth Rs 1,033 crore have been exported from Srinagar whereas the import figures stood at Rs 1,680 crore during this period.
Under the present agreement, trade between the two sides happens only by exchange of goods with no money changing hands.
The two sides will also take up the issue of installation of cargo scanners at check-points so that the arduous way of checking the trucks and the cargo is minimised. The scanners will check if the vehicles are ferrying arms, explosives and drugs.
India is likely to press for permits for people from either side for religious tourism besides opening up of Gilgit -Skardu and Jammu-Sialkote roads for greater people-to-people contacts and giving a boost to trade.
Though trading after the Kaman post incident began in Poonch-Rawalakaote of Jammu division on February 20 it could not restart in Uri-Muzaffarabad road in Kashmir division as PoK authorities refused to open the gates.

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