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Common Quality Norms Are Vital In SAFTA Trade

Financial Express, India

24 May 2004

Common Quality Norms Are Vital In SAFTA Trade


Countries across the globe are realising the importance of regional
blocks. The South Asian countries too have now felt the urgency of such

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) with
membership of seven countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives, is gradually moving towards a distinct
regional trading block.

Beginning was made with the signing of the SAARC Preferential Trading
Agreement (SAPTA) in Dhaka in April 11, 1993. Susequently the concept of
South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) was mooted at the 11th SAARC summit
Kathmandu and ultimately an agreement on SAFTA was signed on January 6,
at the 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad. SAFTA agreement is slated to come
into force from January 1, 2006 upon completion of formalities,including
ratification by all contracting states and issuance of notification by
SAARC Secretariat.

Apart from compliances mentioned in the SAFTA agreement relating to
regional trade like tariff reductions, there is a mention of trade
facilitation measures like harmonisation of standards, reciprocal
recognition of tests and accreditation of testing laboratories in member
countries. This important aspect of trade is mentioned in Article 8 of
SAFTA Agreement. Non-tariff barriers can deter trade and hence need to
negotiated well in the interests of intra-SAARC trade.

The SAARC Secretariat with this foresight in view had initiated this
process even before the signing of SAFTA agreement. A begining was made
the SAARC workshop on regional approach to standardisation and quality
control in Delhi in December 1997. The recommendations of this workshop
considered at the 2nd SAARC Commerce Ministers’ Meeting in Islamabad in
April 1998 which led to setting up of a SAARC Standing Group on
Quality Control and Measurement.

This SAARC Standing Group had so far held three meetings and all of
meetings were hosted in Delhi as India is the coordinator. The first
was held within a year after its formation. It was held in June 29-30,
The second meeting was held after a gap of two years in February 4-6,
The delay was due to political difference between major member countries
the region. Now as the political differences between major countries
narrowed down leading to the success of the 12th SAARC Summit in
the Standing Group could eventually meet in Delhi on May 18-19, 2004.

Lessons need to be learnt from the collapse of the last WTO ministerial
meeting at Cancun. Developing countries need to remain united if they
are to
get any benefits from global trade. There is also a need for forming
regional trading blocks. European Union, Mercosur, NAFTA, ASEAN are the
examples of success. The South Asian countries should, therefore realise
move faster towards implementation of SAFTA Agreement.

One significant result of the 3rd meeting of the SAARC Standing Group
concluded its deliberations in Delhi on May 19, 2002 was that the
agreed to set up a regional standards body for formulating and
administering quality norms for goods and services in the region. With
harmonised standards put in place, it was decided that the SAARC
would work for evolving a common position in meetings of global standard
setting bodies like International Standards Organisation (ISO), Codex
Alimentarius Commission and WTO. This is a notable achievement. Hope
more progress will be made in this direction before the next SAARC
Summit in
Dhaka in January 2005 and the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong which
also scheduled in January 2005.

It was also agreed in the 3rd meeting of the Standing Group to have
bilateral agreements in areas of conformity assessment to facilitate
intra-SAARC trade. A proposal for utilisation of available facilities in
SAARC region for accreditation of testing facilities and certification
member countries was also agreed upon.

The ISO has also recently recognised South Asian region as a separately
distinct region for formulation of regional standards. SAARC signed a
with the German Metrology Institute, PTB for promoting cooperation in
of measurement, calibration, standards, conformity assessment and
accreditation. It is also planning to enter in agreement with other
bodies for technical assistance in developing standards. SAARC is
formalising a MoU with UNIDO. These efforts will help South Asian
to develop standards in equivalence to globally accepted norms.

Separate SAARC groups on customs simplification, investment promotion
protection, avoidance of double taxation are meeting shortly. There is a
proposal to set up a regional arbritartion council. Yet harmonisation of
quality norms for the region is vital for trade.