US hopes to extend Af-Pak transit trade agreement to India

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Washington, Sep 23: A senior Obama Administration official on Thursday expressed hope that the ambitious ''New Silk Route'' transit trade deal between Pakistan and Afghanistan would be extended to include India, which he said would boost trade and commerce in the region.

"... As you know, Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to a transit trade agreement and they've also agreed to try to implement that and to extend it to Central Asia. And obviously, that's a very welcome development," a senior State Department official said.

"Ultimately, of course, we hope that it can be extended to India as well. The Indian and Pakistani commerce secretaries have been engaged in very important talks over the last several months to try to increase the volume of direct trade between their two countries that goes across the Wagah border," said the official on condition of anonymity.

"I think they hope to announce some new measures in the next month or two. And again, the ultimate goal is to try to reduce trade and other barriers so that products from Afghanistan or from any of the central Asian countries could transit through Pakistan and into India, Bangladesh or even beyond," the official said.

"This is really a truly transformative vision, because all of you know is that India is going to be such an important economic anchor for the region.

"It's going to be the third-largest economy in the world, if projections hold true, by the year 2030. So it's obviously an important economic partner for the United States, but even more importantly, it's an important partner for all of the countries of the region," the official argued. 

Another very important priority is to try to expand regional energy infrastructure.

The official claimed that India, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan have made important progress on the TAPI pipeline, which envisages bringing natural gas from the fields of Turkmenistan to the energy markets of India, which are growing rapidly.

"It would also bring very important transit revenues for Afghanistan and Pakistan," the official said.

Another senior administration official said Pakistan would benefit from this proposed New Silk Route.

"If you're going to take goods from Central Asia to India or India back to Central Asia, well, Pakistan ought to be a part of that.

"And that's one of the reasons that we put so much attention on the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement, which went into effect on June 22 and why we pay such attention and support the efforts of the two commerce secretaries, Pakistan and India, to work out as much trade as possible, because we want Pakistan to be a major beneficiary of this," said the second official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Informed sources said that the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Grossman, and the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, met Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in New York on Wednesday, during which the issue of improved trade and commerce between India and Pakistan came up, besides other issues.

"A fair amount of progress has been made. If you look at kind of the efforts where they started a year or so ago, they were talking about kind of the most minimal things. Now we've moved forward, at least a little bit, negatives to positives," he said.

PTI

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