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Amritsar looks at trade revival with help from Pakistan

Amritsar Amritsar is looking to revive trade with help from an unexpected quarter - Pakistan. The trading community in the two countries feels there is much scope for increasing business between them through the land route to millions of dollars.

"Why do the two countries - which have a common land border that is so accessible - have to trade through the sea route via Karachi, Mumbai and Dubai? We can trade so many things through the Wagah-Attari border at negligible cost," said M Khurshid Barlas, chief executive of the Pakistan World Trade and Expo Centre in Islamabad.

"Amritsar is the gateway of trade to the whole of India. The market potential of both the countries is great. The needs of the people are the same, standards match and product acceptability can be easily found on both sides. I see no reason why trade ties through here cannot improve in the future. It is so comfortable to trade here," Barlas said.

Scores of members of the Pakistan business community were here last week to be part of the Punjab International Trade Expo (PITEX) organised by the Punjab Haryana Delhi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI).

Chambers of industry from Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Islamabad and other places in Pakistan, who were here for PITEX, said the scope of trading through Amritsar was immense.

Despite the two countries being not on the best of terms, the business community on the two sides of the Radcliffe Line, the international border between India and Pakistan, is optimistic that trade ties could be the biggest confidence building measure between them.

Trade through the land border - Attari on the Indian side and Wagah on the Pakistan side - has increased manifold after trucks have been allowed limited access in each other's territory since October 2007.

Amritsar, an important trade centre for northern India in the pre-independence (1947) era, lost much of the trade and industrial activity after the creation of Pakistan and strict restrictions along the border by the two countries.

Sikh terrorism in Punjab, with Amritsar being the hotbed of most activities, in the 1980s and 1990s further weakened Amritsar's hold on trade activity in the region.

The restricted trade through the Attari-Wagah land border has India importing cement, fruits, dry fruits, chemicals and fertiliser from Pakistan while it exports vegetables (onions and tomatoes), livestock and a few other things.

"The idea of having PITEX at Amritsar and inviting the various chambers of industry from Pakistan is to boost the trade through Amritsar. The city can revive the glory of its trade status with the involvement of the business community of both the countries," PHDCCI's Punjab committee chairman Rajiv Bali told IANS.

The Pakistani section at PITEX saw the maximum rush during the five-day fair here.

"Many of the things available in the Pakistani section are unique for India. For instance, the onyx stone decorative items are very popular in India," said Gurkanwal Kaur, who came to shop at the fair.

PITEX this year saw nearly 300,000 footfalls, giving a clear indication to PHDCCI officials that Amritsar had a good potential for trade.

"The success of PITEX here has prompted us to announce that we will hold our own edition of the trade fair in Pakistan next year where we will invite the Indian business community in a big way," Mian Mohammad Ateeq Shiekh, leader of the Pakistan delegation and senior vice president of the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told IANS.
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