DOING BUSINESS IN SOUTH ASIA: The South Asian nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — all vibrant textile and apparel traders — are plagued by high costs ranging from setting up a business to conducting cross-border trade and need to push ahead with more reforms, a report by the World Bank said.

But the report noted that business costs also varied widely within each country and among business centers and transport and logistics hubs for clearing exports and imports. "Doing Business in South Asia 2007" concluded, for example, that in India, exporting of merchandise takes an average of 27 days and 10 documents to complete procedures. While this is a marked improvement over last year's average time of 36 days, it still lags behind neighboring China's 18-day average.

The fastest location in India from which to export is Chennai's port, with an average time of 17 days; Calcutta is close behind with 18 days and Mumbai is the slowest, with 27 days needed, the report said. Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is also singled out as among the cheapest Indian cities for trade transactions, with businesses paying a fee of $580 to export a 20-foot container; Calcutta is the lowest, with a cost of $505.

In Pakistan, exporting goods takes an average 24 days and eight documents, down from 33 days last year, and Karachi is "the cheapest and quickest" city. In Bangladesh, exporters on average require 35 days to export goods and seven documents. However, for the country's key export sector, apparel, which accounts for 75 percent of its merchandise exports, shipments can clear much faster. The cheapest Bangladeshi port for exports is Chittagong, where businesses pay $553 per container, and the costliest is Dhaka, at $607.

In Sri Lanka, it takes an average of 25 days and eight documents to export goods.

In 2005, India's exports of apparel were valued at $8.2 billion, up 25 percent from the previous year; Pakistan's reached $3.6 billion, up 19 percent; Bangladesh's rose 13 percent, to $6.4 billion, and Sri Lanka's edged upward by 4 percent, to $2.8 billion, according to World Trade Organization data.

India and Pakistan are also major exporters of textiles and in the same year posted double-digit gains. Exports from India were up by 12 percent, to $7.8 billion, and Pakistan's shipments rose 16 percent, to $7 billion.

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