“Devote more energy to ensure early ratification of Agreement on Trade in Services”

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Sunday praised the positive role played by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in promoting greater cohesion between countries of the region. At the same time she drew attention to the “considerable” scope to do more.

Ms. Rao's opening observations came at the SAARC Foreign Secretaries' conclave to evolve a Periodical Analytical Report for the consideration of their Foreign Ministers, who will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ms. Rao lauded the progress in cooperation in areas such as environment, energy, agriculture, rural development and trade, but wanted SAARC to devote more energy to ensure the early ratification of the Agreement on Trade in Services signed at the previous summit here in April last.

List submitted

India has already submitted its sector-specific request list of services to various members and hopes that the ‘request-offer process' can soon gather pace at the meeting of the Expert Group scheduled for the end of March.

Both Ms. Rao and Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir dwelt on developing substantive cooperation with observers including other regional organisations and extra-regional states that have showed interest in SAARC. At the same time, Ms. Rao felt that SAARC must not lose sight of fundamental principles of cooperation that should continue to be based on mutual self respect of each other's identity.

“Such engagements need to be rooted in SAARC's charter and its objectives and priorities, and be based on concrete assessed regional developmental needs in mutually agreed areas,” she said. “Having just completed 25 years of SAARC, we can say that the process is maturing and we are now gradually focusing on providing more services for the economic and development needs of our people.”

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes laid stress on greater connectivity, economic integration and cooperation in security.

Mr. Bashir also emphasised cooperation in the areas outlined by Ms. Rao. He identified the priority sectors as environment and climate change, energy and food security, and promoting project-based cooperation. Pakistan fully supported trans-regional economic, energy and development cooperation, he added.

“Vital achievement”

“South Asia today is witnessing vibrant democracies at work. The formulation of the SAARC Democracy Charter was an important achievement,” Mr. Bashir said.

The charter is an initiative of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and is being piloted at a time when all SAARC members happen to be democracies.