Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar lamented that forum of South Asian Association of Regional Countries (Saarc), which was established three decades ago, had been unable to take off and implementation of its decision was very slow.
Speaking at the conclusion of eighth meeting of Saarc Finance Ministers on Friday, Ishaq Dar while referring to the absence of Indian Finance Minister from the meeting stated, “It hardly matters because countries are represented and not individuals, and his office was presented by Indian Secretary of Economic Affairs Division.”
However, Dar was visibly dejected about the future prospect of Saarc forum and stated “we have reached no where during three decades” and attributed the non-implementation of Safta to the each country’s own long negative list and tariff as well as non-tariff barriers among the member states.
“Implementation of the decision was a serious problem,” he said, adding successfully implementation of Safta could have brought about economic union of the regional countries.
Dar stated that there was only five percent trade among the Saarc countries which needed to be enhanced.
“We have considered a proposal to have a clearing house of Saarc countries to facilitate the trade and issuance of stickers to the office-bearers of trade bodies similar to the Parliamentarians for promotion of trade.”
Dar said the proposal regarding issuance of stickers to the officer-bearers of trade union of every member country would be submitted to the upcoming meeting of the Heads of States scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan in federal capital in November 2016.
Dar also spoke on need of working on a strategy for avoid ness of double taxation among the member states and stated that discussion was also held to operationalize window of Saarc Development Funds (SDF) for economic and infrastructure projects.
However, he said that funding available with the SDF was very meager of $462 million.
Finance Minister stated that Saarc ministers meeting has taken a number of decisions; (i) accelerating the process towards South Asian Economic Union (SAEU) in a phased and planned manner as mentioned in the Declaration of 18th Saarc Summit; (ii) ensuring implementation of decisions recommended by the Member States at various Saarc mechanisms in order to realise the goals of Saarc Charter to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; (iii) strengthening regional trade through full and expeditious implementation of South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) in order to achieve deeper integration and move towards SAEU and also to bring down tariffs, eliminate NTBs/PTBs, reduce sensitive lists for enhanced intra-regional trade under Safta; (iv) operationalise the Saarc Agreement on Trade in Services without further delay by finalising the schedules of specific Commitments; (v) finalise Text of the Saarc Agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments; (vi) initiate discussion on widening the scope of Saarc Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters:(vii) emphasised the need for harmonisation of customs procedures and documentations in the region to facilitate movement of goods across the borders; (viii) underlined the need for improved connectivity in the region including through land, sea and air route and early signing of Motor Vehicle and Railways Agreements; (ix) strengthen Social Window and operationalize Economic and Infrastructure windows of Saarc Development Fund (SDF) so that tangible benefits are visible on the ground;(x) enhanced intra-regional investments with a view to bridge the large infrastructure financing gap in the region;
Finance Minister stated that next Saarc meeting would take place in Afghanistan and the delegation from Afghanistan offered to host the ninth meeting of the Saarc Finance Ministers in Kabul in 2017, dates for which will be communicated through Saarc Secretariat.