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November 23, 2015

Traders seek structural changes, better mechanisms in cross LoC trade

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November 23, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Nothing comes easily for Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), not even trade, which started in 2008 after 60 years of conflict as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM), and is currently hindered by continuous shelling from both sides and is dwarfed over serious threats to peace and business in the region.
The number of tradable items has now been reduced to 13 from the original 21 items.However, this week as traders from both sides met they exchanged notes on how restrictions that they face have been greatly eased and helped circumvent the restrictions on travel and communication. Even telephone calls cannot be made between the two sides.
“Traders in Azad Kashmir with its disputed territory status have had very few opportunities of economic development and progress. This trade has opened a new source of employment for many families associated to business,” Ershad Mehmud, who heads the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), told The News.
The organization arranged a workshop where amidst serious deliberations and brainstorming sessions traders across Azad Kashmir pressed for structural changes and better mechanisms in the ongoing cross LoC trade.
Twenty-five traders, who came from Tetrinote, trading point at the LoC, Rawalakot, were very skeptical about the future of cross LoC trade and they consider cross-border shelling a serious threat for both peace and business in the region. A unified voice from the conference pressed for cessation of hostilities between India and Pakistan on the LoC.
Interestingly, on the other side at Chakan da Bagh in Poonch, Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, at an unrelated event also put his weight behind the LoC trade and said this was the biggest breakthrough in the history of the region, and he was placing high priority on extending telecom and banking facility to broaden the scope of business.
“I will take up the matter at the highest level so that Pakistan is convinced

to agree to the proposal in the next meeting of the Joint Working Group between the two countries,” he said, while referring to extending telecom and banking facilities at both Salamabad (Baramulla) and Chakan da Bagh trading points.
At the CPDR workshop, meanwhile, one of the pioneers of this trade, Sardar Kazeem Khan, who heads cross LoC trade union of Tatrinote, said, “We are not allowed to meet our trade counterparts frequently. There is no proper banking system or currency exchange mechanism in place, and continuation of trade in such a hostileexchange mechanism in place and continuation of trade in such a hostile security environment is an anomaly in International business.”
Among the suggested mechanisms, the issue of scanners availability was raised by almost every participant. They were of the view that trade goods upon entering Pakistan are unpacked and examined thoroughly which is a time consuming exercise, it destroys the life and quality of goods, multiplies the packing cost which disturbs the cost profit equation of the trade.
Also the promise of banking facilities across LoC hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Sardar Shahid Mahmoud, first trader to send consignment across in 2008 and who heads Kotli Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “My weekly consignment which is sent across is of 10 million PKR, but I always consider it a high risk investment as I don’t have any opportunity to meet my trade counterpart from other side. They can’t even make a phone call from the other side. If some dispute arises between traders, there is no dispute resolution council in place which makes it even more risky.”
Kashmiri trades called for immediate measures to bring some relief to the lack of access to the markets in Pakistan, issues of custom duty and legitimacy of cross LoC trade in Islamabad. “Irony is that, traders don’t have a viable market in Azad Kashmir and access to Lahore and Karachi markets isn’t granted to them so the volume of trade isn’t increasing as was expected earlier,” adds Ershad Mehmud.

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