NEW DELHI, Feb 12 (IANS): En route to becoming the first Indian trade minister to visit Pakistan in 30 years, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma Sunday said the neighbouring country had indicated its desire to strengthen trade ties like increasing the number of goods that could be imported from the South Asian economic giant.
Sharma said Pakistan had said that it would shift its trade policy towards India from the positive list-based regime to a negative list one, thus enabling more Indian goods access to its market.
"There is every reason for us to believe that there is an expressed wish and desire on part of Pakistan to move to the (negative list) regime. This will deepens and diversifies trade and enhance economic engagement," Sharma told reporters here.
Currently, Islamabad allows only 1,946 items of imports from India, whereas New Delhi permits import from Pakistan of all but a few items in the Indian negative list.
"This is the understanding which has been given to us when the Pakistani Commerce Secretary came again in November. This will be a major boost to two-way trade. We expect trade to double in next three-four years from the current level of $2.7 billion," he added.
Sharma along with some 150 businessmen and industry representatives will lead the largest Indian trade delegation to Pakistan, and will take part in a series of trade promotion events, including an "India Show" in Lahore, over four days starting Monday.
Bilateral trade between India and Pakistan was recorded at $2.7 billion in 2010-11.
Trade balance is heavily in favour of India with its exports at $2.3 billion and imports from Pakistan at $332 million. An improvement in ties between the two countries, could result in bilateral trade growing to $10 billion by 2015, according to some estimates.
The delegation will have a series of meetings with business leaders and government officials of Pakistan, including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
When asked about easing of visa norms for business travellers between the two countries, Sharma said he would like to finalise the details of a multiple entry visa regime at the earliest.
"Both the government's have talked. The drafts have been exchanged. We are in favour of an early conclusion of singing of an agreement for a multiple entry visa regime to facilitate the movement of business leaders of India and Pakistan as part of the process of normalisation."
"We do hope that his visit will create a positive environment which will be appreciated and welcomed by both the sides. We will discuss all aspects of economic engagements; it is our hope that by taking the economic relations to higher level we will be creating an environment of trust and confidence".
The minister also said that he along with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Amin Fahim would review the progress of Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari-Wagah border Monday morning.
The ambitious ICP project is spread over 130 acres and will cost Rs 120 crore and has a potential to increae trade traffic manifold.
Sharma will also be addressing the 6th South Asian Free Trade Area Ministerial Council meeting in Islamabad on February 16.