SAARC transforming from South Asian Free Trade Area to Economic Union: Dar

ISLAMABAD, Aug 26 (APP): Minister for Finance Muhammad Ishaq Dar on Friday said that several mechanisms had been established to deepen the economic integration of the SAARC region.
“We are now moving from South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) to South Asian Economic Union,” he said while addressing a press conference at the conclusion of 8th Meeting of the Finance Ministers of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) here.
Dar, who is the current Chairperson of 8th SAARC meeting,
was flanked by Secretary General of SAARC Arjun Bahadur
Thapa and Secretary Finance Dr Waqar Masood Khan.
The meeting was preceded by the Eighth Meeting of
the SAARC Finance Secretaries on Thursday, attended by all member states.
Ishaq Dar said that since the last meeting of the SAARC Finance Ministers in Kathmandu in 2015, significant headway
has been made in regional collaboration in the areas related to economic and financial cooperation among the Member States.
He said that there was, however, a need to intensify the
efforts on reduction/removal of non tariff and para tariff barriers, trade facilitation measures, investment cooperation, and reduction of products in sensitive lists.
The meeting also delibrated on SAARC Agreement on
Trade in Services, improvement in connectivity,
energy cooperation, harmonization and simplification of
customs procedures and Agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investment for betterment of the peoples of the region.Ishaq Dar said that discussions at the
8th SAARC Finance Ministers were very fruitful.
It was decided that the Ninth
Meeting of SAARC Finance Ministers would be held in Kabul
next year.
In order to expand the multilateral trade and
economic activity among the SAARC Member States, the meeting called for better collaboration among SAARC Member States.
The meeting, Dar said also recommended that the SAARC
Secretariat may commission a study on export and import patterns
of Member States within and outside the region with a view to improve intra regional trade.
He said that the Asian Development Bank, UNESCAP and
trade bodies in member countries could be approached for support.
Ishaq Dar said that the meeting also drew attention to
the weak physical connectivity in the region which added to the cost of trade.
“This aspect also needs to be incorporated in the proposed
study,” he remarked.
The meeting, he said also recommended that SAARC
finance ministers could meet on the sidelines of Annual
World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington in October each year and the SAARC Secretariat would be requested to facilitate the meetings.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said that the meeting also
adopted its report unanimously.
He said that SAARC head of states will meet in Islamabad later this year on November 9 10, He added that in their country statements, the Finance Ministers/Heads of Delegations inter alia, emphasized the need for accelerating the process towards South Asian Economic Union (SAEU) in a phased and planned manner as mentioned in the Declaration of 18th SAARC Summit.
He added that they also called for ensuring implementation of decisions recommended by the Member States
at various SAARC mechanisms in order to realize 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.
He said that they also stressed the need for 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;
The Minister said that the meeting also called for operationalization of the SAARC Agreement on Trade in services without further delay by finalizing the schedules of specific commitments including Finalization Text of the SAARC Agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments,Initiation of discussion on widening the scope of SAARC Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.
He added the meeting also emphasized for harmonization
of customs procedures and documentation in the region to facilitate movement of goods across the borders.
He added the meeting also 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.
He added that the meeting also called for strengthening
Social Window and operationalize Economic and Infrastructure windows of SAARC Development Fund (SDF) so that tangible benefits are visible on the ground.
The meeting, he said also called for enhanced intra regional investments with a view to bridge the large infrastructure financing gap in the region.
Replying to a question, Ishaq Dar said that India had participated in the meeting and sent its Secretary Economic Affairs.
Speaking on the occasion Secretary General of SAARC
Arjun Bahadur Thapa, said that the most of the things had been covered in today’s meeting.
Secretary General of SAARC, commended the Government of Pakistan for hosting the important meeting and for making excellent arrangements for the same.
He expressed his confidence that the Eighth Meeting
of SAARC Finance Ministers would provide a much needed impetus to speed up the process of moving towards South Asian Economic Union (SAEU) and give directions in that regard.