The process of liberalisation and broadening the base of bilateral trade between India and Pakistan has had a chequered history. Business organisations have been active, either from their own platform or in joint association with their counterparts across the border. At the same time, the facilitation process has also encouraged think tanks, research houses, community service organisations, and even individuals to join the campaign and formulate well documented research and opinions to spur up the process and provide substantial ammunition to the stakeholders.
Although there are many highly regarded organisations who have taken up the challenge, both in India and Pakistan, this article highlights a few. These are CUTS International based in Jaipur, Gateway House in Mumbai, and ICRIER in New Delhi. In Pakistan, Jinnah Institute and SDPI are two recognised think tanks, both headquartered in Islamabad. On an individual level, three names carry a lot of weight and respect. These are Dr Ishrat Hussain, former governor of State Bank of Pakistan and presently the Dean and Director of the prestigious Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi, Dr Rajiv Kumar, erstwhile Secretary General of FICCI, former Director and chief executive of ICRIER, and now Senior Fellow at the premier Centre for Policy Research (CPR) New Delhi, and Dr Huma Fakhar, Pakistan’s most prominent expert on WTO, SME, and FTA.
CUTS International is an acronym for Consumer Unity and Trust Society. It has five centres in India, three in Africa and one in Geneva and Hanoi. It has over 1,200 individual as well as 300 institutional members. The avuncular Pradeep Singh Mehta is the guiding force behind this highly focused institution. He is ably supported by a dedicated team of nearly 100 young professionals. He is often on the move promoting his organisation as well as imparting his wisdom at international forums. CUTS has been very dedicated to the cause of facilitation of bilateral trade between the two SAARC members and has spearheaded conferences, position papers and linkages in this field.
It has hosted focused programmes on various bilateral trade facilitation issues, including Non-Tariff Trade Barriers, financial intermediaries and trade facilitation, trade mapping, etc. I represented Pakistani businessmen in two CUTS programmes in April 2013 and thrice during 2014 in New Delhi and Dhaka. CUTS enjoys a defined linkage with SDPI.
Gateway House based in Mumbai is the brainchild of Manjeet Kripalani who is the Founder and Executive Director. She is the former India Bureau Chief of Businessweek magazine and has been the recipient of many global awards and recognitions. Gateway House is a foreign policy think tank established to engage India’s leading corporations and individuals in debate and understanding on India’s foreign policy and its role in global affairs. It has also organised projects to create awareness of the imperative need for bilateral trade liberalisation and facilitation. In August 2014, I was invited to participate in the “Brainstorming Session on Sub-Regional Perspective on Indo-Pakistan Cooperation, Prospects and Challenges with reference to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Punjab” where we discussed “Trade and Economic Cooperation between Mumbai and Karachi” and “Trade and Economic Cooperation between Gujarat and Sindh”. The emphasis was on the need to make borders connect rather than divide.
Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), based in New Delhi, is an autonomous policy-oriented think tank. Its main concentration is to enhance the knowledge content of policy making by undertaking analytical research that is aimed at enlightening India’s policy makers and also at boosting the interface with the global economy. Prof Dr Nisha Taneja, a distinguished academician and expert on WTO issues, regional trade, industrial and institutional economics, is leading the three-year project on “Strengthening Research and Promoting Multi-Level Dialogue for Trade Normalisation between India and Pakistan”. The objective of this in-depth study is to catalyse and inform a more participatory policy debate through targeted and practical research and fostering multi-level dialogue platforms.
Dr Taneja has visited Pakistan many times along with her team, and is probably the most familiar and popular Indian academic face in the opinion of many Pakistani chambers and associations. Her deep insight into the dynamics of bilateral trade liberalisation and facilitation has had a positive influence in this process. I consider myself as her global admirer because of her dedication to this project and for her acclaimed pragmatism. In an email interaction, Dr Taneja stated that “one big advantage of doing the project is that we have been able to sensitise media, academia, and civil society on India Pakistan trade through multiple platforms. This has shifted the focus from politics to trade. Even during tense political situations we have managed to undertake all our project activities. This to my mind is the biggest achievement of the project. And, of course, without the support from people like you in India and Pakistan, none of this would have been possible!” She further added that “the process of trade liberalisation is almost complete with only a small number of items on the negative list of import. We need to now focus on how this trade can be realised by addressing issues related to trade facilitation”.
Jinnah Institute is led by Ambassador Sherry Rehman who initiated the Delhi Dialogue where focal persons deliberate on issues related to India and Pakistan. I was a speaker at the meeting in Islamabad in 2012 where I presented the concerns of the Pakistani businessmen and industrialists. I was also the sole businessman in the Pakistani Parliamentary Delegation that visited India in 2012 which was organised by Jinnah Institute and FICCI.
Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) is directed by Dr Abid Suleri with Dr Vaqar Ahmed as his
deputy. Among other research projects, SDPI has done an intensive study on the impact of bilateral trade liberalisation on the automobile and pharmaceutical industries of Pakistan. It is also very much involved in organising the South Asia Economic Summit that have been held five times in the last six years while the sixth SAES would be in November 2014 in New Delhi.
At the individual level, Dr Ishrat Hussain has been a sought after speaker at international forums where he conveys the practical aspects of the bilateral trade process. His various writings and papers are based on ground realities and his approach has been on steering the narrative through hard facts and raucous roadblocks instead of sugar-coated idealism. On the education front, he has developed linkages with recognised educational institutes in India, such as Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad in UP and organising a collaborative event with the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
Dr Rajiv Kumar is another erudite professional who is a renowned economist and the author of several books. He also oversees SARCist which is an initiative of CPR towards building a virtual knowledge platform for purposes of policy advocacy on issues of regional cooperation with particular emphasis on trade and investment flows. The SARCist endeavours to bring together the excellent work being done by many of these think tanks in South Asia as well as outside South Asia that are working on South Asian cooperation. He has written extensively and proposed out-of-box solutions and opinions on Indo-Pakistan trade issues and he is a recognised authority on this subject.
As Chairperson of Pakistan Business Council’s initiative, India Pakistan Joint Business Forum, Dr Huma Fakhar has been engaged in supporting and putting at forefront trade between the SME sectors of the two countries. She is an avid supporter of the creative industry (cinema, art, music, publishing, etc) facilitation on both sides of the border. She has specifically proposed an agenda to expedite India Pak trade in targeted areas like SME, technology and border facilitation. Her writings on India-Pak trade, including South Asian regional trade, have been widely published. She has also carried out detailed studies and papers on SAFTA for the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Dr Fakhar represents a regional SME Fund which primarily invests in India and Pakistan along with business support services for cross border trade between the two countries.
Think tanks, individuals, chambers and trade associations have generally been in the forefront in promoting bilateral trade liberalisation and facilitation. Braving contentious issues, anger-jingoism, mental blockades and even voyeurism, they assiduously trek on as if playing the snakes and ladders game, and manoeuvre through the political, security, and psychological roadblocks, as they aspire to attain the objective. And, the goal is that trade can change the deep-buried negative mindset. Dale Carnegie once said that ”most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all”.
Source : http://magazine.thenews.com.pk/mag/moneymatter_detail.asp?id=9149&magId=10&catId=31
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.