Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave on Wednesday for the Maldives on a four-day visit to attend the SAARC summit, during which four agreements are expected to be signed.
On the sidelines, he will also have several bilateral meetings, including an interaction with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, official sources said.
Dr. Singh will be accompanied by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. Senior officials have already reached Male to prepare for the summit and the bilateral meetings.
The summit, to be held for the first time south of the equator on one of the southern-most islands in the Maldives, will focus on connectivity and promoting trade. From there, Dr. Singh will go to the capital Male, on a bilateral visit.
Implementing the provisions of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) remains central to the summit. In three days of preparatory meetings, negotiators would look at reducing the size of sensitive lists, especially for the Least Developed Country members of SAARC, and peak tariff rates for products covered by these lists.
The summit will finalise four agreements: two on regional standards, one to establish a rapid response mechanism to deal with natural disasters and the other to establish a SAARC seed bank.
“It is timely and appropriate that the theme for the 17th SAARC summit is ‘Building Bridges.' Literally and metaphorically, our region needs to improve the infrastructure of connectivity and trade. It also needs better people-to-people contact to entrench the habit of regional cooperation,” said Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
Describing SAARC as a key element in India's approach to the region, Mr. Mathai said the grouping was a vital platform for the quest for economic integration, and improving ties with the other members. So, India was committed to supporting SAARC projects even in an “asymmetrical and non-reciprocal manner.”