New Delhi: South Asian nations are hoping to finalize a multilateral agreement on vehicular traffic that could boost connectivity and trade within the region, in time for the 18th Saarc summit in November.

India is hosting the third meeting of the expert group formed to negotiate and finalize the draft motor vehicle agreement for the regulation of passenger and cargo vehicular traffic amongst Saarc member states between 6 and 8 September in Rajasthan.

“Officials from road transport and highways and ministry of external affairs will meet the officials from Saarc countries. We expect to be able to conclude the discussions and finalize the draft for the agreement," said a road ministry official requesting anonymity.

Another government official confirmed the development. He too did not want to be identified.

Five Saarc member states have confirmed participation in addition to India. “Pakistan will not attend the meeting and Maldives has no interest as there can be no road connectivity with them," the official added.

The agreement will lay down the protocol for vehicular traffic movement between Saarc countries for better people-to-people connectivity and cargo movement.

India’s exports to the Saarc countries totalled $17.3 billion between April 2013 and March 2014, according to provisional figures given by India’s ministry of commerce. Imports from the region in the same period totalled $2.45 billion. India’s total exports to the world in the same period stood at $312 billion while total imports were at $450 billion.​

Biswajit Dhar, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, termed the meeting as an important step towards building connectivity and boosting trade and people-to-people contact in the region.

“The most efficient way of connecting these countries is through roads. There are at least two least developed countries, or LDCs—Nepal and Bhutan—they are entirely dependent on roads.

“If you have the road infrastructure in place and then you couple it with customs facilities, etc.—make the movement of goods through the region as seamless as you can—this is going to work wonders for the economy of the region," he said.

The expert group to negotiate the draft regional agreement on motor vehicles was formed in 2009 and has since met twice. “During the last meeting, the text of the draft agreement was revised by incorporating the comments of member states," the official said.

The draft, if finalized, will then have to be vetted by the appropriate authorities in the respective countries. Thereafter a committee will be formed to work out the operational details such as customs clearances, immigration procedures, visas and other clearances.

The Indian government is keen to expedite the process and aims to have the draft in place before the upcoming Saarc summit in November in Nepal. According to Arpita Mukherjee, professor at the New Delhi-based think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), agreed that improving connectivity would provide a fillip to the economy and improve the production network of the region.

If there are roads and a pact allowing motor vehicles to pass through, it will raise the profile of the region that has the potential of becoming a manufacturing hub.

“We have similar kind of endowments—cheap labour and stuff like that. Poor connectivity and logistics has been a problem plaguing all Saarc countries," she said.

The move to increase connectivity also fits in with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for cooperation along Saarc countries, she said adding: “If we put systems in place, much of the informal trade will become formal and revenues will increase, it will reduce logistics cost and benefit the entire region."

ragini.v@livemint.com

Close