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India minister heads to Pakistan for better ties


India is committed to removing barriers that restrict trade with Pakistan, the Indian commerce minister said Sunday ahead of his visit to the rival country.

Sharma will leave for Lahore on Monday through the overland border post at Wagah to take part in a three-day "India Show" and hold trade talks with his Pakistani counterpart.

"We want to build bridges of confidence and trust which is imperative to promote two-way trade between the two countries," Anand Sharma said at a press conference in New Delhi.

The visit comes in the wake of a recent rapprochement between the nuclear-armed neighbours and signals warming of their fractious relations.

An array of legal and regulatory barriers has restricted official exchanges to ê2.7 billion but Sharma said he was hopeful the sum would jump in the coming years.

"We hope to double this figure in a three-year period. Once direct trade through (the) land route is facilitated, there will be a manifold increase," said Sharma, who will head a 120-strong delegation of business leaders and officials.

Deepening economic engagement between the two countries, which have fought three wars against each other since independence from Britain in 1947, is seen as crucial to establishing lasting peace in the troubled South Asian region.

In 1996, India granted Pakistan "most preferred nation" status which is intended to remove discriminatory higher pricing and duty tariffs.

Pakistan agreed in principle to grant a similar status to India last year,  paving the way for a radical reorganisation of trade.

At present, Pakistan maintains a list of 1,945 items allowed to run from India to Pakistan -- but only 108 can be trafficked directly by road through Wagah.

Major items of export from India to Pakistan are sugar, cotton, man-made filaments and chemicals, while its top imports from Pakistan include fruit, mineral fuels, and organic chemicals.

Sharma said Pakistan had shown the willingness to move "towards a regime which deepens and diversifies our trade", and India, on its part, was working towards visa reforms.