Now, a South Asia Forum to boost Saarc

Business Standard, India

Now, a South Asia Forum to boost Saarc

By Nayanima Basu / New Delhi

9 June 2011

Thimphu summit mandate for a body to generate ideas and press countries on progress taking shape.

The last summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), last month in Thimphu, had mandated creation of a South Asia Forum, consisting of diverse stakeholders from all member-countries to generate ideas to further links. This is now taking shape.

Established under the aegis of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, its aim includes charting a map for Saarc’s next 25 years, besides monitoring the gradual removal of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), expanding the reach of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and implementation of related trade policies.

“This will have everyone on the same page and the result of this would be fed into the next summit. So it becomes formal. The outcome of the forum after the first meeting of the forum would be forwarded to the Saarc secretary-general who would then take it up in the summit. It will open a new vista in Saarc,” Sheel Kant Sharma, head of the South Asia Forum (Saf) told Business Standard.

The forum would have representatives from the government, think-tanks and chambers of commerce from all the eight members – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal. It has already had two meetings of the steering committee and its first meeting would take place on September 7-9 in this city.

“This is an attempt to bring together a synergy from the governmental and non-governmental sectors. There had been annual summits that were held in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal but these dialogues and processes, due to their autonomous natures, had not been fed into the official process. But our trade and business community wants results on the ground and want policies to happen in a faster manner because they mean business,” Sharma said.

Intra-regional trade in 2009 was $628.9 billion, which was just five per cent of global trade. In contrast, East Asia’s comparative contribution to global trade was 32 per cent in 2006.

“A lot of informal trade takes place but if the hurdles are removed, then trade can grow three-fold. In the first meeting, we will set realistic goals and targets,” said Sharma.

The next Saarc summit is going to be held on November 11 in Maldives. “The forum would act as a vehicle. This would also chart out the future course of Saarc in the medium and long run, besides promoting the vision of a South Asian Community and South Asian Economic Union,” Sharma said.

He said the forum would look into empowering Saarc to deal with problems of a bilateral or political nature, currently not in its mandate. “There is a lot which can be done, notwithstanding the bilateral or political problems. This will have direct tangible benefits for the people,” he said.

In the Thimphu summit, all the countries agreed to put greater efforts in intra-regional connectivity to boost trade. It also celebrated 25 years of Saarc.

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