Addressing the Saarc business leaders conclave organised by Ficci and the Saarc Chamber of Commerce & Industry in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that these would not only link the Saarc nations, but more importantly, would connect the region to the on-going economic miracle in South East and East Asia.
The seven-member Saarc includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar.
Talking about the potential of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta), which he said would hopefully be implemented on January 1 2006, the PM pointed out that the current level of intra-regional trade is expected to rise from $6 billion to $14 billion within two years of Saftas existence.
Dr Singh said there was a need to expand the ambit of Safta to include trade in services in addition to widening the scope of trade in goods. We hope that the free trade agreement will help us to move forward towards the eventual goal of a South Asian economic union.
On the recently concluded Saarc summit in Dhaka, the PM said it was a milestone because it showed the continuing relevance of the group. The decision to invite Afghanistan to join the group and the other initiatives proposed at the summit will inject new dynamist in Saarc, he said.
Addressing a session on regional and global integration, commerce & industry minister Kamal Nath said the South Asia region urgently needed to work out a coherent and comprehensive strategy for intensifying its efforts towards integration.
He stated that while the signing of the agreement on Safta two years ago was a milestone and the culmination of a clear commitment for the creation of a South Asian economic union. The minister pointed out that over 90% of the requirements of South Asian countries were still sourced from outside the region and a major part of exports of South Asia were also destined for countries outside the group.
The total intra-regional trade among Saarc countries is about $7 billion as against the total volume of the combined international trade of $350 billion in the region.