Traders were jubilant as trucks laden with garlic from India rolled across the border into Pakistan, marking the resumption of direct trade by road between the rival countries after a lapse of 40 years.
The resumption on Tuesday fulfilled long-standing demands by traders on both sides, who previously had to move goods hundreds of kilometers (miles) to ports or train stations to get them across the border.
"We are thrilled and the prospects for trade are immense," exporter Rajdip Uppal said by telephone from the Indian border city of Amritsar.
At the Wagah checkpoint, 1,000 bags of garlic were handed over to the Pakistani authorities on Tuesday to be transported in trucks to buyers in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore.
As India-Pakistan tension gradually ease after decades of hostility, both countries agreed earlier this year to allow exports of livestock and four kinds of vegetables to meet shortages in Pakistan.
Indian exporters are allowed to send onions, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes and livestock, mostly goats, sheep and buffaloes, to Pakistan. In return, India wants to import lentils, cotton yarn, sugar and dried fruit from Pakistan.
Official trade between the two countries reached US$380 million (euro303 million) in 2004. But unofficial trade through third countries like the United Arab Emirates or Singapore totaled more than US$1billion (euro800 million), according to Indian industry groups.
Direct trade using trucks will be tremendously beneficial, traders said.
"After all the months of dialogue between the leaders of India and Pakistan, this is the first practical milestone," said Uppal as he readied bags containing 500 tons of garlic to be hauled into Pakistan.
But traders were dissatisfied with restrictive visa rules under which Pakistani visitors cannot move freely across India.
"We want to invite Pakistani business leaders to India, to take them around and show them the extent of our business. But the existing rules allow a visa to only one or two cities," said Uppal.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over control of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, since their independence from Britain in 1947. Relations have improved since January last year, when they agreed to hold talks to settle the decades-old Kashmir dispute.
Kashmir remains divided between India and Pakistan, but both countries claim the entire territory.
(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies July 27, 2005)