Gujarat will gain most from Pak MFN, Dubai will lose

For once, I am pleased at how India played it: India gave Pakistan MFN (most favoured nation) status way back, in 1996, without getting into the silliness of reciprocity. A hallmark of professional competence in international trade is the idea of unilateral liberalisation: Even if another country is silly enough to have barriers against us, we should not have trade barriers against them.

Removing barriers against India's globalisation is a favour to us, regardless of what it does to anyone else. India often gets intocul de sacs by obsessing on reciprocity -e.g. we won't open up to imports of agricultural products because the Europeans won't. We won't allow foreign banks to operate in India because some other countries have barriers against the operations of Indian banks. And so on. But for once, in this case, our guys seem to have played it right (and way back in 1996, too!).

There will be a boom in shipping, communication and trade serving the direct Bombay-Karachi route. Similarly, the ports of Gujarat will do a lot of business directly to Karachi. AFP

And now, we have a nice next step: Pakistan will give India MFN status.What might happen next? Here are some conjectures:

At present, there is significant Indo-Pak trade; it merely gets routed through Dubai. Once Pakistan gives India MFN status, the entrepot trade that was going Bombay to Dubai to Karachi will go (directly from) Bombay to Karachi. This is bad news for Dubai and for individuals and firms which are invested in the future of Dubai as an entrepot centre. Trade data should show a fairly sharp decline in India's exports to UAE and a fairly sharp rise in India's exports to Pakistan.

•There will be a boom in shipping, communication and trade serving the direct Bombay-Karachi route. Similarly, the ports of Gujarat will do a lot of business directly to Karachi.

•At first blush, little changes: the goods that used to go via Dubai would now go directly to Karachi. But a recurring theme in economics is the extent to which apparently small frictions loom large. The removal of fairly modest frictions matters a lotfor business activity. So when the cost of shipping goes down by roughly 3x, even though the cost of shipping may be small in absolute terms, this would have a big impact on trade. Another dimension of cost is the cost of the middleman in Dubai. The establishment cost of this middleman in Dubai would be eliminated.

•Important dynamics will now set in amidst firms in Pakistan. Firms that compete with exports from India will suffer. Firms that consume imported inputs from India will thrive. Creative destruction will take place; resources will shift from one group of firms to another. Exporters will be better able to export to India, both because of access to cheaper labour and capital that's freed up by firms that die owing to import competition, and because of improved competitiveness that comes from cheaper raw materials. Exports from Pakistan to India will go up significantly.

•Large Indian and Pakistani corporations will look much more seriously at the opportunities that lie just beyond the national border. Over time, human capacities and human networks will build up on both sides, supporting cross-border operations. This will take time to ripen, but when it does, the effects will be large. A huge fraction of global trade is intra-firm trade, so it's very important to have large firms of both countries having operations in both countries, in order to get growth of trade.

•The biggest gains in India will be in Gujarat, given the myriad ports in Gujarat which are a short distance away from Pakistan. But in the future, if road and rail links open up, then there are big opportunities in Punjab also. Wouldn't it be nice to have a NHAI-style road running from Ahmedabad to Karachi, and from Amritsar to Lahore?

Ajay Shah

To the extent that we're merely rerouting trade, bypassing Dubai, this will impose no new stress on ports and airports in Pakistan. But to the extent that new trade is created - as I expect it will (and as argued above) - then new work will be required in Pakistan on enhancing the capacity of ports and airports. I would personally be surprised if the effects are not large.

In the intuition of economists, there is a gravity model in the affairs of men. Proximity and low transactions costs are incredibly important. The natural opportunity for India to grow international integration on all dimensions (goods, services, people, ideas, capital) lies in our immediate neighbourhood. India's connections into the region are shockingly below those seen for all other large countries. Doing better on connections with Pakistan would be a nice step forward.

Consider a product like cement, which is ordinarily considered a non-tradeable. Transportation of cement is so hard, there isn't a unified national market in India. There are a series of regional markets. But even in this, modifications of transportation have mattered greatly. E.g. when Gujarat Ambuja came up with the innovation (back in the mid-1990s) of sending cement from Saurashtra to Bombay by sea, this was a very big deal. By that same logic, cement from the coast of Saurashtra can go to Pakistan (or vice versa, depending on who produces at a lower price).

We should not see trade in goods in isolation. All dimensions of globalisation are intimately connected to each other. To do more trade in goods and services, we need more movement of people. Ergo, the silly visa restrictions that both countries impose on each other need to be eased. Finance follows trade: So where trade in goods and services leads the way, bigger financial integration will inevitably follow with trade financing, cross-border banking, payments, purchases of information, operations of multinationals and FDI, INR/PKR currency risk management, and investment flows. More will need to be done on investment guarantees, export/import trade financing, etc.