India today asked its South Asian neighbours to increase intra-regional trade as a cushion against slowdown in exports to the US and European markets.

Addressing the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) Ministerial Council here, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said with the recession in the developed markets, all SAARC member nations would have witnessed a slowdown in their exports.

“This challenge reaffirms our need for greater intra-regional trade integration,” he said.

In the last five years since signing of the SAFTA, the intra-regional trade in South Asia accounts for only 4.31 per cent of its total international trade.

For instance, out of India’s total global trade of USD 483 billion for 2008-09, its engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries was merely USD 10 billion.

Sharma also urged Pakistan and Sri Lanka to prune their negative list for the least developed countries.

He said India would soon implement reduction in import tariff for non-least developed countries (NLDCs) like Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

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