Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, March 29:

A two-day long Nepal-Pak bilateral talks on economic cooperation kicked off here today after a gap of nearly 10 years. The Nepal-Pakistan Joint Economic Commission (JEC), established in 1983, is holding its fifth round of talks after the last meeting was held in 1995. Finance minister Madhukar SJB Rana is heading the Nepali team, while Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s minister of state for economic affairs with an eight-member team is taking part in the mee-ting. Speaking at the meet, Rana urged for special and differential measures by Pakistan to embark upon an export-led growth path. “For this, additional trading items of mutually comparative and competitive advantages should be identified,” he said. Appreciating the duty-free status granted by Pakistan to the export of Nepali tea, Rana also urged extension of similar facilities to other commodities like cardamom, ginger, lentil and coffee.

She expressed that the two-day meeting would be fruitful in exploring new avenues for bilateral investment, trade and tourism and strengthening relationships. The Pakistani state minister Khar, while speaking on the occasion, said that Pakistan is to propose signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Nepal. “We are willing to sign a FTA with Nepal, which will surely enhance bilateral trade and business activities between the two countries,” she said. Pakistan had proposed establishment of FTA when its prime minister Shaukat Aziz visited Nepal in October last year.

Pointing to the transit problem as a major hurdle for bilateral trade, Khar said, “We should explore alternative transit routes through Bangladesh and even through China.” Besides government-to-government level efforts, she suggested that businessmen from both sides should also be encouraged to look into potential joint ventures. Pakistan is understood to have joint cooperation in small dams, communications, textile and garments, leather products and manpower training. Bhanu Prasad Acharya, finance secretary said the meeting would review matters agreed upon during fourth session of JEC and chart out the future course of action. According to him, the agenda of the meeting will include agriculture, economy and finance, trade and commerce, health, communications, water and power, human resource development, lab-our and manpower, tourism and civil aviation. Following the two day-long discussions on the above mentioned agendas, both delegations are scheduled to sign the agreed minutes tomorrow. The Pak team is also holding talks with the Nepali business community. Despite a tremendous potential in bilateral trade, the volume of Nepal-Pak trade has not been able to cross Rs 470 million.