SAARC members discuss trade prospects in New Delhi

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New Delhi, Feb 10 (ANI): Commerce Secretaries of SAARC nations met here on Tuesday to find ways to remove trade barriers and boost business within the region.

Commerce Secretaries from eight member countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation's (SAARC) -- India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives,epal, Pakistan Sri Lanka and Afghanistan participated in the meeting.

Pakistan's Commerce Secretary Suleman Ghani also attended the meeting, theirst official visit by a Pakistani official after the Mumbai attacks.

Ghani said, his country had been a vocal supporter of boosting free trade in the region and was committed to helping the lesser developed countries.

"Pakistan has always been very supportive of the SAARC initiative. We play a very positive role in the Committee for Economic Cooperation. So there is much more at stake here. It's of course enhancement of trade under the umbrella of SAFTA which is, I think, the key here. And of course, its also a matter of building the capacities of the LDC's to fully exploit the potential of SAFTA," said Suleman Ghani, Pakistan Commerce Secretary.

The two-day meeting is expected to discuss the progress made on the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), non-tariff barriers and permitting transit routes for trade with third parties.

At the last summit, leaders had set up an expert group to undertake a detailed study on SAFTA and to look at the possibility of including service sectors like insurance and banking in the system. So far, SAFTA has been applicable to goods only.

The Commerce Secretaries are expected to give their opinion on the recommendations of the expert committee, which would then be considered further at the SAARC Foreign Ministers in Colombo on February 26.

The meeting will also discuss transit trade. India had succeeded in convincing the new Bangladeshi Government to provide a transit route to link Indian mainland with the seven northeastern states.

India is also seeking a transit through Pakistan to Afghanistan, which is now a member of SAARC also. Both India and Afghanistan are expected to pressurise Pakistan to allow transit facilities to Indian goods, which have to be taken via Central Asia and Iran to reach Kabul. (ANI)

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