Exporters cheer as India, Pakistan re-open border trade

By agencies   |   Thursday, 28 July 2005, 07:00 Hrs
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AMRITSAR: Cross-border trading between India and Pakistan was dull but exporters hailed the South Asian rivals' landmark decision to reopen a land transit route after a hiatus of five decades.

"There was almost no trading today but the volumes would be up tomorrow when fresh merchandise arrives," an Indian customs official said at Wagah, the solitary land route officially open between the two adjoining countries.

The two sides reopened Wagah to trade Monday with the first consignment of 3.78 tonnes of garlic transported to merchants in Pakistan. Indian exporters said they expected cross-border business would be brisk in the coming days.

Two-way trade between India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since their 1947 independence, grew from $161 million in 2000 to $483.85 million last financial year when they began a peace process to mend bilateral ties.

"Now that vegetables and livestock can be sent through the land route people of Pakistan would be able to get fresh commodities the same day from India," said exporter Gajinder Singh.

"Earlier, it was not feasible to send fresh vegetables to Pakistan through the rail link because of the delays," Singh said of a weekly cross-border train service.

Indian customs officials also forecast brisk trading through Wagah.

"One of the (Indian) firms has received orders for 300 tonnes of potatoes and 450 tonnes of garlic from
traders in Lahore, Sakhar Sind and Karachi in Pakistan," said a customs official.

Porters on the Indian side celebrated the resumption of trade by distributing sweets to officials and visitors, witnesses said.

"An entire generation of porters sat idle because the border was closed to business and now we too will have a happy life," one porter said at Wagah, which is barely 25 kilometers from the Pakistani city of Lahore.

India and Pakistan in April agreed to a long-standing industry demand to set up a joint business council and revive a defunct trade panel to strengthen ailing trade ties.

The decision came when Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met in New Delhi for talks aimed at adding momentum to the ongoing peace process between the two estranged neighbors.

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