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India-Pakistan trade much below than potential: Reports

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Islamabad| The current trade between India and Pakistan is at a little over USD 2 billion, much below than the potential, and can go up to USD 37 billion if the two countries tear down artificial barriers like lack of connectivity, trust deficit and complicated and non-transparent non-tariff measures, according to a World Bank report.
The report titled ‘Glass Half Full: Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia’ was released here on Wednesday.
Dawn reported that it says that the current trade between the two countries is much below than full potential. It could only be harnessed if both countries agree to tear down artificial barriers.The bank also estimated Pakistan’s potential trade with South Asia at USD 39.7bn against the actual current trade of USD 5.1bn.

The report also unpacks four of the critical barriers to effective integration. The four areas are tariff and para-tariff barriers to trade, complicated and non-transparent non-tariff measures, disproportionately high cost of trade, and trust deficit.Talking to a group of journalists on key points of the report at the World Bank office in Islamabad, lead economist and author of the document Sanjay Kathuria said it was his belief that trust promotes trade, and trade fosters trust, interdependency and constituencies for peace.In this context, he added, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor by governments of Pakistan and India would help minimise trust deficit. He said such steps will boost trust between the two countries. For realising the trade potential between Pakistan and India, he suggested the two countries can start with specific products facilitation in the first phase.

Kathuria said Pakistan had least air connectivity with South Asian countries, especially India. Pakistan has only six weekly flights each with India and Afghanistan, 10 each with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and only one with Nepal, but no flight with the Maldives and Bhutan. Compared to this, India has 147 weekly flights with Sri Lanka, followed by 67 with Bangladesh, 32 with the Maldives, 71 with Nepal, 22 with Afghanistan and 23 with Bhutan. The report recommends ending sensitive lists and para tariffs to enable real progress on the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and calls for a multi-pronged effort to remove non-tariff barriers, focusing on information flows, procedures, and infrastructure. The report stated that Pakistan’s decision of not granting MFN status or non-discriminatory market access to India was also a barrier to trade.

The preferential access granted by Pakistan on 82.1% of tariff lines under Safta was partially blocked in the case of India because Pakistan maintained a negative list comprising 1,209 items that could not be imported from India, the report noted. Policy-makers may draw lessons from the India-Sri Lanka air service liberalisation experience. Connectivity is a key enabler for robust regional cooperation in South Asia.

Kathuria said that reducing policy barriers, such as eliminating the restrictions on trade at the Wagah-Attari border, or aiming for seamless, electronic data interchange at border crossings, will be major steps towards reducing the very high costs of trade between Pakistan and India. He argued that the costs of trade are much higher within South Asia compared to other regions. The average tariff in South Asia is more than double the world average. South Asian countries have greater trade barriers for imports from within the region than from the rest of the world.He said these countries impose high para tariffs, which are extra fees or taxes on top of tariffs. More than one-third of the intraregional trade falls under sensitive lists, which are goods that are not offered concessional tariffs under The World Bank Country Director for Pakistan, Illango Patchamuthu, said Pakistan is sitting on a huge trade potential that remains largely untapped. “A favorable trading regime that reduces the high costs and removes barriers can boost investment opportunities that are critically required for accelerating growth in the country,” he said.

The World Bank’s Director Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Caroline Freund said Pakistan’s frequent use of tariffs to curb imports or protect local firms increases the prices of hundreds of consumer goods, such as eggs, paper and bicycles.They also raise the cost of production for firms, making it difficult for them to integrate in regional and global value chains, she said. “Pakistan needs to promote export promotion policies to ensure sustainable growth.”

On the issue of currency devaluation, she said undervalued currency is an anti-export measure. She suggests exchange rate should be determined by the real market trend.

India International

Cut on motorcycle tariffs by India fair deal: Donald Trump

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Washington | President Donald Trump has said he has struck a “very fair deal” with India by making it cut the tariffs on the iconic motorcycle Harley-Davidson by half in just about two minutes, but rued the “high” Indian duties on American whisky.

India in February last year slashed the customs duty on imported motorcycles like Harley-Davidson to 50 per cent after Trump called it “unfair” and threatened to increase the tariff on import of Indian bikes to the US.

At a White House event on the Reciprocal Trade Act on Thursday, Trump flashed out a green colour board with examples of non-reciprocal tariffs from various countries.

“Look at motorcycles as an example. (In) India, it was 100 per cent. I got them down to 50 per cent, just by talking for about two minutes. It’s still 50 per cent vs 2.4 per cent (on imported motorcycles to the US). Again, other than that, it’s a very fair deal,” the president said.

Trump, however, pointed out to the high tariff by India on import of wines.

“India has a very high tariff. They charge a lot of tariffs. You look at whisky… India gets 150 per cent, we get nothing.”

In his interaction with lawmakers at the White House, Trump said the Reciprocal Trade Act would give US workers a fair and level-playing field against other countries.

The Reciprocal Trade Act, which Trump was expected to highlight in his now-delayed State of the Union address, would give him authority to levy tariffs equal to those of a foreign country on a particular product if that country’s tariffs are determined to be significantly lower than those charged by the United States.

It would also allow Trump to take into account non-tariff barriers when determining such tariffs.

Trump alleged that many countries all over the world have taken advantage of the US.

“They charge us tariffs and taxes, the likes of which nobody has any understanding. They are so high and so unfair! They also have barriers where we can’t go in. They have trade barriers that make it impossible for us to sell our farm products and our other products.

“Whether they think we’re very nice or not so smart, they’ve been doing it for many, many years and we want to end it. Many of these are friends, many of these are allies… but, sometimes, allies take advantage of us even more so than our non-allies,” he said.

Trump said the Reciprocal Trade Act would help to solve the problem once and for all. “Whatever the tariff for a foreign country is, we place the same tariff on us.”

“What’s going to happen, I think, from a practical standpoint, is they won’t be charging us tariffs anymore. We’ll see. Or we’ll charge them a lot. A tremendous amount of money,” he said.

The Reciprocal Trade Act will be an incredible tool to bring foreign countries to the negotiating table and to get them to lower tariffs on US products and also to get rid of their trade barriers, the president asserted.

America cannot lose almost USD 800 billion on the trade like it has been done for many years, he said.

Congressman Sean Duffy, who introduced the Reciprocal Trade Act, has put granite from India in his global list of non-reciprocal tariffs.

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India International

Not aware of plans by Xi Jinping to visit India: Chinese Foreign Ministry

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Beijing | China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it was not aware of any plans of President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in the next two months for the second informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as reported by a Japanese publication.

Japanese publication Nikkei Asian Review on Tuesday carried a report titled “Xi plans India visit, as diplomatic chess with US intensifies”.

The story said, “Xi intends to visit India as early as February in a move seen at countering Washington’s increasingly antagonistic trade policy and aggressive Indo-Pacific diplomacy.”

When asked about the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “You said this was reported by Japanese media. So it is quite interesting. I am not aware of what you said.”

Hua said China and India are friendly neighbours.

“We attach importance to maintain high-level exchanges. And the leader of both the countries also maintain friendly communication and exchange,” she said.

When pointed out that the Russian media also carried a similar report, Hua said, “Chinese media hasn’t reported it and I am not aware of the information you mentioned”.

“But we attach importance to our relations with India and we stand to maintain close communication at various levels,” she said.

Officials sources here on Wednesday told PTI here that there was no proposal for Xi to visit India for the second informal summit Prime Minister Modi.

Wuhan summit was the first such high-level meeting ever between Indian and Chinese leaders. It was conceived by both the sides following the 2017 military standoff at Doklam which ratcheted up tensions between the two countries.

The two-day summit at Wuhan during which the two leaders closely interacted for hours on bilateral and international issues has paved the way for the two countries to normalise relations on all fronts putting behind the Doklam standoff.

Since then the two countries steadily normalised relations with intensified dialogue on various fronts, including the military and trade fronts.

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India International

Indian couple who fell to their deaths from cliff in US were intoxicated: Autopsy report

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New York | An Indian couple, who fell to their deaths in October reportedly while taking a selfie at a steep cliff in California’s Yosemite National Park, were intoxicated at the time of the tragic fall, according to an autopsy report.

Vishnu Viswanath, 29, and his wife, Meenakshi Moorthy, 30, were “intoxicated with ethyl alcohol” prior to falling 800 feet from Taft Point on October 25, but no drugs were present in their bodies, according to the autopsy report. Ethyl alcohol is found in alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and hard liquor.

Due to the condition of the bodies after the extreme fall, investigators were unable to accurately discern a specific level of intoxication, Andrea Stewart, assistant Mariposa County coroner said.

“All we can conclude is that they had been drinking and that they had alcohol in their systems. We don’t know how much,” Stewart was quoted as saying by Mercury News.

The couple from Kerala died “of multiple injuries to the head, neck, chest and abdomen, sustained by a fall from a mountain”, the report said.

The couple had been married since 2014. Both graduated in 2010 from the College of Engineering, Chengannur, in Kerala. Viswanath was a software engineer with Cisco India at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Moorthy and Viswanath who showcased their adventure-seeking travels on Instagram had set up a tripod at Taft Point before they fell 800 feet down the side of a steep cliff.

The tripod was later discovered on the edge of the overlook. Viswanath’s brother, Jishnu Viswanath said it appeared the couple died trying to take a photo.

Viswanath and his wife Moorthy, travelled the world documenting their trips to locales like the Grand Canyon, Paris, New York City, Niagara Falls, London, Big Sur and other scenic destinations.

Just months before her tragic death, Moorthy had warned in an Instagram post the dangers of taking photographs on the edge of cliffs and atop skyscrapers.

She posted a picture of herself at the Grand Canyon, saying in the caption that A lot of us including yours truly is a fan of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs. But did you know that wind gusts can be fatal? Is our life worth one photo?

In an eerie coincidence, Moorthy appears in the selfie of another tourist couple at Taft Point, just minutes before she plummeted to her death.

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