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Focus on Pak trade by rail

New Delhi, Sept. 22: India and Pakistan have decided to consolidate trade ties and further economic co-operation despite lack of progress on terror.

The seventh round of bilateral talks on commercial and economic co-operation ended yesterday in Islamabad with a slew of measures to promote trade.

Indian commerce secretary S.R. Rao and Pakistan counterpart Munir Qureshi agreed to increase railway links to transport goods across the border. The two sides will also explore possibilities of opening new land routes for trade.

The joint statement issued after the talks said both sides emphasised the need for more trade traffic to be carried by rail. The rail ministries of both countries will hold co-ordination meetings monthly.

Pakistan highlighted issues on availability of sufficient number of rakes. “It was noted that the earlier agreed provision of 3-4 interchanges a day has not been adhered to due to current trade patterns,” the statement said.

The two sides felt a viable solution was to allow high-capacity wagons from Pakistan which carry three times more load than regular wagons.

The Indian Railways said it would examine specifications provided by the Pakistan Railways for high-capacity wagons and get back within two months. India will also consider a Pakistani request to supply 100 locomotives.

The commerce secretaries reviewed the progress on enhanced trade for petroleum products, trade in power and reciprocal opening of bank branches and “exhorted the relevant stakeholders on both sides to speed up the mutual consultations so that concrete progress is achieved within the next six months”.

India expressed its willingness to export up to 5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan for an initial period of five years. BHEL made an offer to co-operate with Pakistan in setting up 5002000 MW capacity coal/hydro or gas power plants. India indicated its willingness to co-operate with Pakistan in areas of wind and solar energy.

The two sides also felt the need to increase air connectivity. It was noted that against an average of about 23 flights per week between New Delhi and capitals of Saarc countries, there was no direct air link between New Delhi and Islamabad.

The commerce secretaries agreed to set up a joint working group before November 15 to work out a more liberalised regime for commercial flights to ensure economic viability.

The next round of commerce secretary-level talks is likely to be held in India in April 2013.