Islamabad: India and Pakistan will hold their first trade negotiations in over two years in Islamabad on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani set the tone for the talks by saying on Tuesday that his country wanted "constructive engagement" with India.
Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar arrived in Lahore with an official delegation on Tuesday for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Zafar Mahmood in Islamabad during April 27-28.
Following delegation-level talks on Wednesday, the two sides are expected to issue a joint statement on Thursday.
During a meeting with Commerce Secretary Mahmood and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, Gilani backed "constructive engagement" with India, saying Islamabad wants to forge bilateral relations that are based on "mutual interest and mutual respect".
Gilani also asked the Commerce Secretary to take on board all stakeholders for establishing "mutually beneficial trade relations with India".
"Constructive engagement with India is essential so that both the countries could move towards the goal of establishing good neighbourly relations," Gilani said.
Pakistan's Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim told the media after a meeting with Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal that the agenda for the upcoming talks would be open and all issues, including India's offer to sell oil and electricity, would be discussed by the secretaries.
Indian officials said the talks would focus on better coordination and establishing systems that would boost bilateral trade in compliance with multi-lateral and regional obligations like the South Asian Free Trade Area pact.
"The aim will be to open up trade and move it to a firmer footing," said an official who did not want to be named.
Pakistan's concerns, including an incorrect perception that India is imposing Pakistan-specific barriers, were likely to figure in the talks, the officials said.
Indian trade provisions, such as the certification of quality for imports, were applicable to all countries and not just Pakistan, they said.
"However, we are going into the talks with an open mind and a constructive approach and are willing to discuss such matters," said an official.
The Indian High Commission has stepped up efforts to reach out to Pakistani business lobbies on the need to boost trade and there is "great interest" in the possibility of opening up and promoting commerce, the officials said.
Pakistan's refusal to grant India the Most Favoured Nation-status notwithstanding, the Indian side will focus on moving trade away from Pakistan's "positive list" approach to a "negative list" approach, sources said.
Moving to a "negative list" or a limited list of items barred from trade will allow both sides to expand exports, they said.
The average annual Pakistan-India trade volume is around $2 billion.
A total of 1,946 items are being traded between the two countries.
However, the total trade has fallen from over $2.2 billionin 2008-09 to about $1.5 billion in 2009-10.
The trade talks are part of the dialogue process that was revived by the two countries earlier this year after a gap of over two years.
Since the resumption of parleys, the Home and Interior Secretaries have held talks on ways to tackle terrorism and cross-border crimes while a Judicial Committee on Prisoners has discussed ways to speed up the release of fishermen and other prisoners being held in jails in both countries.
Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh also met on the margins of the Pakistan-India semi-final of the cricket World Cup at Mohali last month.
Both leaders reiterated their commitment to the dialogue process to resolve all outstanding issues between the two sides.