The 18th Summit Meeting of the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) concluded in Kathmandu on November 27, endorsing a 36-point Kathmandu Declaration. The Declaration has, among other decisions, expressed a renewed commitment to create a “South Asian Economic Union” in a phased and planned manner through a free trade area, a customs union, a common market, and a common economic and monetary union.
The heads of government and state of the eight countries of the region who had gathered for the Summit also expressed strong determination to deepen regional integration for peace, stability and prosperity by intensifying cooperation in trade, investment, finance, energy, security, infrastructure, connectivity and culture. They also have directed the SAFTA Ministerial Council and the SAFTA Committee of Experts to accelerate free trade in goods and services in South Asia. For this, they stressed on simplified and transparent rules of origin, effective implementation of trade facilitation measures, harmonization of standards relating to technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures.
Simplifying customs procedures, elimination of non-tariff and para-tariff barriers and smooth and efficient transit and transport facilities are among the measures the leaders have vowed to implement. They also agreed to strengthen the social window of the SAARC Development Fund and operationalise its economic and infrastructure windows at the earliest for effective implementation of regional and sub-regional projects. The Summit stressed the need for the implementation of those development projects which will enhance their standard of living.
During the Summit, the foreign ministers of all the eight SAARC countries signed SAARC Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation and Electricity. Though the proposed SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement and SAARC Regional Railways Agreement could not be signed during the Summit, the leaders welcomed the significant progress towards the finalisation of these agreements. They also agreed to hold a meeting of transport ministers of the region within the next three months to finalise the agreements for approval.
The leaders renewed their commitment to substantially enhance regional connectivity through building and upgrading roads, railways, waterways infrastructure, energy grids, communications and air links to ensure smooth cross-border flow of goods, services, capital, technology and people.
In the agriculture sector, the member states agreed to boost investment and promote research and development, facilitate technical cooperation and apply innovative, appropriate technologies to enhance productivity to ensure food and nutritional security to the people of the region. The leaders directed to eliminate the threshold criteria from the SAARC Food Bank Agreement so as to enable the member states to avail food grains, during both emergency and normal food difficulty. They also urged for early ratification of the SAARC Seed Bank Agreement and directed to constitute the Seed Bank Board.
To boost tourism, the leaders agreed to make South Asia an attractive common tourist destination. They directed relevant bodies to effectively implement Saarc Action Plan on Tourism (2006) particularly through initiating appropriate public-private collaboration.