Declaration calls for effective implementation of free trade pact

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit has decided to set the timeline for finalising a framework for rail and sea connectivity.

The “Addu Declaration” issued at the end of the Seventeenth SAARC summit here on Friday shed some of the despondency reflected in the previous summit held in Thimphu.

While the Thimphu Declaration had disappointed over a “number of initiatives not translating into tangible and meaningful benefits to the people,” the latest one welcomed the summit recognising the importance of “bridging differences,” playing on this summit's theme of “Building Bridges.”

In this respect, the eight leaders at the summit decided to finalise a Regional Railways Agreement and complete the preparatory work on an Indian Ocean Cargo and Passenger Ferry Service by the end of this year.

In his address during the inauguration of the summit on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called for full implementation of his six-year-old proposal for unrestricted access to airlines from SAARC states. He had also suggested giving priority to a Regional Railway Agreement and a Motor Vehicle Agreement.

The declaration made no mention of an air services agreement but met Dr. Singh's desire for SAARC-wide ferry and rail services. In the absence of seamless air, rail and sea connections among SAARC member-countries due to traditional animosities, unsettled conditions and apprehension about the other country's designs, the common man travelling between some SAARC countries is forced to take circuitous routes.

For instance from this island itself, Nepalese citizens prefer to fly to Qatar and then to Kathmandu instead of travelling via India.

The declaration also decided on early demonstration run of a Bangladesh- India-Nepal container train.

On the trade front, emphasis was on effective implementation of the free trade pact, paring the sensitive lists, eliminating non-tariff barriers and harmonising standards and customs procedures. All these factors have limited the SAARC trade to 10 per cent of its actual potential.

Climate change

With consensus eluding the SAARC on climate change, the declaration made a bland one-line reference to the issue.

The mention of terrorism in the declaration was more brief than earlier. But it touched most of the points with the regional grouping steering clear from mentioning “terrorist sanctuaries,” a staple in India's joint statements with other countries.

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