By Sunimalee Dias
As business grows in the south Asian region, the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) yesterday emphasised on the negative impact on the regional entity’s Free Trade Area due to bilateral agreements within.
SAARC CCI President Annisul Huq observed that due to the slow progress within the regional grouping it has “encouraged proliferation of bilateral trade with one or more countries”.
It was pointed out that this had a negative impact on SAFTA with the presence of such bilateral agreements. These matters were highlighted at the SAARCH Chamber and FCCISL organised Round up discussion on the 16th SAARC Summit on the topic ‘Deepening Economic Integration: Strengthening the Role of Private Sector in Regional Initiatives’ held at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo with the participation of the delegates from the respective countries.
There was a recommendation to have views from the chambers of the different countries, which could be compiled by the SAARC CCI, he said.
Huq observed that while the private sector lays great emphasis on all areas of connectivity, at the same time it required the passage of these discussions take place at a faster pace.
Noting the faster implementation of agreements among other regional blocs, it was stated that the political mindset needed to be reformed thereby making the SAARC Chamber becomes more efficient.
Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen addressing the gathering yesterday noted the region’s unacceptable level of poverty. He noted that while they needed to face up to challenges in the futures as a group, they were also required to create avenues to synergise opportunities to strengthen trade within the grouping.
Described repeatedly throughout the day’s deliberations as a trading grouping with an insignificant amount of trade compared to other regional groupings, the Minister pointed out that the reason could be due to low connectivity.
It was pointed out that there was only 5% of total intra trade within SAARC compared to European Union’s 55%, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at 52% and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at 23%.
“With trade liberalisation policies, I believe the region will be converted to a trading union that will further regional cooperation,” Minister Bathiudeen said.
It was asserted that attraction of foreign investment to the region would be increasingly easy with the necessary infrastructure in place in their respective countries.
In a bid to carry out easy trade relations, the Minister observed the need for all countries in the grouping to focus on tariff and non tariff barriers while also ensuring political and economic stability.
The 16th SAARC Summit concluded in April at Thimphu, Bhutan which issued declarations on regional cooperation and climate change, which also emphasised on increasing regional cooperation on trade and tourism, improving inter-connectivity, promoting people-to-people contacts and evolving joint strategy for resolving issues in the region.
Responding to the demand of SAARC CCI, the heads of states welcomed the signing of the Agreement on Trade and Service, which is expected to open new vistas of trade cooperation and further deepen integration of regional economies.
The inaugural session of the Round up discussion was followed by three sessions namely ‘Evaluating Decisions and Implementation – Historical perspective of SAARC,’ ‘Making SAARC a Success – Dealing with Core Issues’ and ‘SAFTA: Want of Implementation Strategy’.
A comprehensive line of experts including ministers, university professors, chamber personalities, academics and professionals representing trade, industry and commerce in the South Asian countries presented and shared their vistas as to how the decisions taken at the recently-concluded SAARC Summit make a reality for the region’s economic prosperity.