Thimpu (Bhutan), Feb 6 (ANI): Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Sunday said that with the completion of 25 years of SAARC, the process is maturing and gradually the focus is now on providing more services for the economic and development needs of the people.
She also said the SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) can be an important instrument to deepen intra-regional trade if it is complied with by all member states and implemented in letter and spirit
In her opening remarks at the 38th Session of the SAARC Standing Committee, Rao said: "Having just completed 25 years of SAARC, we can say that the process is maturing and we are now gradually focusing on providing more services for the economic and development needs of our people. SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) can be an important instrument to deepen intra-regional trade if it is complied with by all member states and implemented in letter and spirit."
"Early ratification of the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services signed at the 16th SAARC Summit will give a boost to realizing the full potential of trade in services in the region. India has already submitted its sector-specific request list of services to various Members and we hope that the 'request-offer process' can soon gather pace at the meeting of the Expert Group scheduled for the end of March 2011," she added.
Rao further said: "The Group on Customs Cooperation is also doing good work for the harmonization of customs standards within the region. We are hopeful that with the appointment of its first Director-General, the SAARC Arbitration Council will also contribute to facilitating the trading environment in the region."
Rao described the SAARC Development Fund as an important pillar of SAARC in implementing collaborative projects that bring tangible benefits to our people.
"I am glad that apart from the two ongoing projects on Women's Empowerment and Maternal Healthcare, a third project on Zero Energy Cold Storage has been approved by the Governing Board of the SDF. Other projects in the pipeline should also be processed soon for implementation," Rao added.
"I am very pleased that in August 2010, the first academic session of the South Asian University (SAU) commenced in New Delhi with 50 students from all across the region. The Seventh Steering Committee Meeting has, in September 2010, finalized all the modalities of the University and plans are now afoot for the first meeting of the Governing Board of the SAU to be convened," she said.
Rao further said: "We would urge those Member States who have not yet done so to quickly nominate their members to the Governing Board so that its first meeting can be held soon. We also call upon remaining Member States to ratify the Agreement on the establishment of the SAU at the earliest."
"India is fully committed to working with other Member States to enhance the prosperity of the South Asian region through social development and regional economic integration," she added.
"In this context, India is pleased that we were able to launch projects in the important areas of health, education, food, water and energy in some of our neighbouring countries. The thrust of most of our regional projects and activities is at the grassroots levels having a direct bearing on the lives and livelihoods of the people," Rao said.
"We have noted the aspect of the Secretary-General's report relating to SAARC's interaction with Observers and Inter-governmental organizations. As we explore consensus to deepen and broaden the Association's global engagement, we must not lose sight of fundamental principles of such cooperation, which should continue to be based on mutual self-respect of each others identity. Such engagements need to be rooted in SAARC's Charter and its objectives and priorities, and be based on concrete assessed regional developmental needs in mutually agreed areas," she added.
The Foreign Secretary said: "We also take note of the Secretary General's stress on the need to hold SAARC meetings on schedule to ensure timely implementation of decisions. We will do our utmost to make this a reality? In this regard, we welcome the offer by Maldives to host a meeting to finalize the Draft Agreement on Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism, something that we have been keen to pursue for some time and was almost eady for the last Summit." (ANI)