Saarc summit yields 3 major pacts

Dhaka, Nov 13 | Updated: Nov 14 2005, 06:20am hrs
India and six other South Asian countries on Sunday signed three agreements covering avoidance of double taxation, on customs and setting up of a Saarc arbitration council. There was also agreement on ushering in a more liberalised regime to facilitate freer travel among people, including mediapersons.

Addressing the concluding session of the 13th Saarc summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the Saarc declaration as a forward-looking document but emphasised the need to expedite the process of resolving the few outstanding issues to set up free trade area in the region by January 1, 2006.

Speaking in his capacity as incoming chairman after India was chosen to host the next Saarc summit, he said there were a number of substantive proposals at the Dhaka summit, including Indias offer to greatly expand airline connectivity within the region on a reciprocal basis.

The three agreements signed by the seven Saarc countries comprising India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives are:

Limited multilateral agreement on avoidance of double taxation and mutual administrative assistance in tax matters

Mutual administrative assistance in customs matters and

Establishment of Saarc arbitration council.

Appreciating the decision to bring Afghanistan into the Saarc fold, the PM said, We are delighted to welcome Afghanistan to our group. This is appropriate recognition of long-standing ties of culture and history that Afghanistan shares with us.

Dr Singh said China and Japan have evinced interest to become observer of the South Asian group and Saarc council of ministers will finalise the guidelines and modalities for such statues at the earliest.

Expressing satisfaction over the progress made by the summit, Dr Singh underlined the need to expedite the process of resolving few outstanding issues that separate the member countries from the final agreement on Safta. It must be our collective effort to ensure that this agreement enters into force on January 1, he said.

The forward-looking declaration adopted at the summit would add new vigour to the Saarc process, he said adding, We have planned several measures to develop our most valuable asset, our human resources.

This includes establishment of a South Asian university by integrating elements in the Saarc social charter and creating a healthcare project involving a regional telemedicine network.