India, Pak begin first trade negotiations post 26/11 attacks

India and Pakistan on Wednesday began their first trade negotiations since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, with officials from both the countries saying that they were focussed on fruitful talks that would boost business from the current level of about two billion dollars a year.

Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar held delegation-level talks with his Pakistani counterpart Zafar Mahmood at the five-star Serena Hotel here.

The start of the talks was delayed by a few hours as the Indian team arrived in Islamabad from Lahore very late last night, officials said.

Both sides said they had an open agenda for the two-day talks, following which a joint statement is expected to be issued on Thursday.

Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim hosted a dinner for the Indian delegation following the conclusion of today's parleys.

In his opening remarks at today's meeting, Mahmood said improving trade would economically benefit both countries and the region.

Both sides had held four rounds of trade negotiations during 2004-07 under the composite dialogue process, and are now open for talks on all issues of mutual interest, he said.

"Pakistan understands that there is a great potential to further increase bilateral trade," Mahmood said.

He expressed the hope that the fifth round of talks will help boost trade and lead to peace in the region.

"We are determined to make the fifth round of talks successful and fruitful," he remarked.

"I believe that this meeting will take the dialogue process forward and by the end of the meeting, all issues related to facilitation and promotion of bilateral trade can be addressed with consensus," Mahmood said.

Khullar said, "We are here for talks to further boost our mutual trade and economic relations. Pakistan and India can resolve their issues through the process of dialogue and we are here with this spirit".

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