New Delhi: In an attempt to boost trade in the South Asian region, members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) are finalizing mutually acceptable standards in products in five sectors with significant trade interest for member countries. Divergence in standards is considered a major non-tariff barrier for trade not picking up in the region.
Saarc groups Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Saarc members established the South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (Sarso) on 25 August 2011. It became operational in Dhaka with effect from 3 April 2014, with the appointment of Syed Humayun Kabir as the first director general of the specialised body. All standards finalized by Sarso will have a distinct identity and will be known as SAARC Regional Standards (SARS) with a specific number like SARS 0001.
The identified sectors for harmonization of standards include food and agricultural products, jute; textile and leather; building materials; chemicals and chemical products and electrical and electronic products. Products which sectoral technical committees are currently studying include sugar, biscuits, jute bags, cement and shampoo.
Chandan Bahl, head of international relations department in the Bureau of Indian Standards, said the idea is to identify products and try to harmonize national standards into a distinctive Saarc standard which has to be mandatorily followed by all member countries. “The work in this direction has already been started. Some products have been identified where technical committees are meeting and discussing to harmonize standards. They have to go back to the stakeholders who will vet it with their own national standards and get it ratified by their respective countries. It has to be unanimous decision of all members,” Bahl added. Bahl said on the certification side also, countries are developing a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) on quality assessment, whereby they would be able to utilize each other’s certification bodies so that most of the certification takes place in the country of origin of the product without depending on the certification of the destination country.
Ram Upendra Das, a professor at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said this move by the SAARC members could be the first step towards creating a South Asian value chain. “With backward and forward linkages, such standard harmonization could boost standards of other products and help member countries look for markets beyond the region,” he added.
India’s exports to SAARC member countries rose 15.8% to $17.5 billion in 2013-14 while import from these countries contracted 7.72% to $2.5 billion.