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Modest agenda on Saarc table, 4 pacts to be signed

Hindustan Times, India

HT Correspondent, New Delhi

Modest agenda on Saarc table, 4 pacts to be signed

5 November 2011

With many of its big ideas still await implementation, the eight-member South Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries seem to have gone for a modest agenda this time.

Though there are talks of trade and transit-connectivity and fostering of linkages as well as forward movement in the implementing South Asia Free Trade Agreement, this year too, they mostly deal with already announced projects and programmes.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave on Wednesday for the 17th Saarc Summit to be held at Addu island in Maldives.

The four agreements to be inked include establishment of a Saarc seed bank, Multilateral Arrangement on Recognition of Conformity Assessment, Rapid Response to Natural Disaster and Implementation of Regional Standards, foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters.

The official engagement of the summit will begin on November 6 with Standing Committee meeting of Saarc followed by joint secretary-level meetings of the eight member states. Foreign Secretaries of Saarc will meet on November 7-8 to finalise the agenda of the Summit and the Summit Declaration. A meeting of the Foreign Ministers will be held on November 9, prior to the Summit on November 10-11, he said.

Talking about the Summit’s theme ’Building Bridges’, Mathai said "literally and metaphorically, our region needs to build infrastructure, connectivity and trade. It also needs people-to-people contact."

The summit will also focus on the trade aspects. Intra-regional trade currently stands at $1.3 billion.

Asked if there was any concrete proposal to increase the regional trade, Mathai said "I don’t think the summit plans to reach at any numericals...but efforts would be to reduce the sensitive lists (of goods)".

It will specially benefit the LDC members of Saarc and also for reducing the peak tariff rates on products that remain covered by the sensitive list.