India, Pakistan for greater trade through Wagah border

NEW DELHI Sun Jan 19, 2014 5:00pm IST

1 of 2. A Pakistani Ranger stands near the Pakistani flag and Indian flag (L) during a daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check post at Wagah border, on the outskirts of Lahore February 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mohsin Raza/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and Pakistan agreed on Saturday to allow round-the-clock movement of trucks and containers through their main border crossing, signalling a thaw in relations after a year's standoff over military tensions on the border.

Trade ministers of the two countries meeting in New Delhi also approved a liberalised visa policy for businessmen to help expand two-way trade, which was barely $2.5 billion in 2012/13 fiscal year against a potential $10 billion.

Both sides hope closer integration of Pakistan with India's giant economy would help lay the ground for a lowering of political tensions between them.

"We have agreed that we will open Wagah-Attari border 24/7 for trade," Anand Sharma, India's trade minister told reporters, referring to the main border crossing in Punjab.

The border gates at the moment are open only from dawn to dusk.

Pakistan also agreed to provide non-discriminatory market access to Indian companies. Over the last year there was little movement on trade because of a series of incidents over military control of the line dividing Kashmir between the two countries.

Two years ago, the two countries set a goal of taking bilateral trade to $6 billion by 2014, which now seems difficult to attain.

Pakistan's Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said the country's central bank had proposed its Indian counterpart grant banking licences to three Pakistani banks, a move which would be reciprocated by his side.

"In the banking sector we are hoping to have some progress, very rapid progress," he said.

Both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif who took power last year are keen to rebuild ties.

Pakistan's economy grew at 3.6 percent in 2012/13 and the government was forced to borrow $6.7 billion from the International Monetary Fund to avert a default of payments.

Sharma said he will lead a business delegation to Pakistan next month.

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Sophie Hares)

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