SAFTA to accelerate intra-regional trade: Pillai

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New Delhi, Mar 28 (UNI) South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) provides a good opportunity for increasing regional trade and businesses should diversify and look at the opportunities within the region, particularly in view of the current slowdown in US and global economy, Commerce Secretary G K Pillai said today.

Addressing the FICCI-ADB-UNCTAD Seminar on 'Regional Cooperation in South Asia: Benefits from SAFTA and the Way Ahead', he said there are inherent complementarities within the region that needs to be effectively tapped to integrate further.

''The high economic growth in the SAARC countries especially India has resulted in greater confidence and positive perception about the region. Given its economic size and large population base South Asia offers a huge opportunity for business,'' he said.

However, there is a need for building appropriate safeguard mechanism in SAFTA treaty so that it becomes acceptable for the smaller countries in the region and gives them a sense of confidence, he observed.

''This is necessary in order to alleviate the perceptions of the smaller countries about the possible influx of goods and services from India into their territories, Mr Pillai commented.

He further stressed on the need for improving facilities within the region to create more trade opportunities by sea and road.

The Secretary also pointed out that despite the security concerns prevailing in the region, trade has been taking place smoothly between the member-countries.

The seminar was second in the series to obtain stakeholders' feedback on the Draft study prepared by the ADB and UNCTAD on benefits from SAFTA and the way ahead.

The study reveals that SAFTA will contribute to stronger economic growth in the region and gains would be much higher if measures to establish more efficient regional transportation and infrastructure networks are simultaneously undertaken.

Contrary to popular perceptions, the study suggests, India and Pakistan are not the most important markets for each other.

Over 60 per cent of the increase in exports to the region of both India and Pakistan would be to Bangladesh.

UNI MP PBB HS1646

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