Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday gave a call to the member-states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to intensify trade with each other in order to beat the global slowdown.
Dr. Singh predicted a long recovery period for the world economy and advocated the implementation of several initiatives to ensure complete normalisation of intra-SAARC trade in order to beat the spillover effects of a squeeze on capital, investments and markets for exports.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the special responsibility of India in accelerating this economic integration but suggested that the pace should be comfortable for all countries. In this respect, he referred to India deciding to reduce the Sensitive List for Least Developed Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area Agreement from 480 tariff lines to 25 tariff lines. Zero basic customs duty access would be given for all items removed with immediate effect, he declared at the SAARC summit.
Dr. Singh recognised that non-tariff barriers were an area of concern and promised India's commitment to dismantling them as “competition begins at home.” He said, “Our industries have to learn to compete if our economies are to have a future in this globalised world that we live in.”
“There are promising signs that South Asia is increasingly getting plugged into the growth dynamic of Asia. Despite all the difficulties, we have been able to maintain a respectable growth rate in the last few years. This encouraging trend has coincided with the growing pace of the SAARC integration. This shows that we are on the right path,” he observed.
Taking the cue from this summit's theme “Building Bridges,” he suggested full implementation of a six-year-old resolve to provide unrestricted access to airlines from the SAARC states, and hoped the regional Air Services Agreement would be sealed next year.
Dr. Singh suggested giving priority to a Regional Railway Agreement and a Motor Vehicle Agreement. India would be ready to facilitate the development of a regional telecommunications infrastructure too.
“We have to learn to trust each other and to learn from each other. The security and stability of our countries are closely interlinked. None of us can prosper in isolation to each other. We cannot afford to allow the many problems we face to stand in the way of our ambitions and dreams,” he said.