The unanimous declaration at the end of the 14th two-day summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) raised hopes of the implementation of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta) by Pakistan, as well as widening of its scope to include trade in services.
The declaration, adopted by all eight members, including Pakistan, said the heads of governments emphasized that “Safta should be implemented in letter and spirit.”
Though Pakistan is a signatory to this regional treaty, it has refused to implement it over the past two years. Significantly, despite going along with the declaration, the Pakistani delegation did not give any independent indication of progress in this regard. India has been holding discussions with Pakistan to ensure a speedy implementation.
Earlier, in his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said his country was ready to export cement to India, taking advantage of the duty reduction announced by the government. The offer came a day after the finance ministry abolished 16% countervailing duty and 4% special additional duty on cement, except white cement, to make imports duty free. Aziz’s offer comes at a time when the government is trying to persuade the domestic cement industry to withdraw its recent hike in prices, to contain inflationary pressures.
Highlighting the achievements of the 14th summit, Prime Minister Singh, in his closing remarks, said: “Our summit has agreed to operationalize the Saarc Development Fund; establish the South Asian University; create a Saarc Food Bank; and set up the Saarc Arbitration Council.” Singh said there was agreement to make tangible progress in the next six months on four issues: water, energy, food and environment. He said viable cross-border projects would be implemented in these sectors with the help of international agencies.
(Monica Gupta contributed to this story.)