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Pakistan refuses to start SAFTA; India ''deeply disappointed''

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, July 6 (UNI) Expressing '' deep disappointment'' over Pakistan's refusal to implement the South Asia Free Trade Agreement from July 1,2006, India today took up the issue with the SAARC secretariat asking it to convene a meeting of the SAFTA Ministerial Council (SMC) to resolve the impasse.

''India is deeply disappointed and is taking it up at the SAARC level,'' Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh said here.

His senior Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath has written a letter to Mr Chenkyab Dorji, SAARC Secretary General asking him to immediately convene the SMC meeting.

Althouth the Tariff Liberalisation Programme (TLP) has kicked off from July 1, Pakistan continues to maintain a Positive list of 773 items ''which is against the letter and spirit of the SAFTA Agreement,'' Mr Kamal Nath said.

He said SAFTA has little operational meaning if Pakistan does not apply SAFTA to all the items except tariff lines in the Sensitive list to all member countries.

Every other member country has operationalised the TLP including Bangladesh. Significantly, it is reliably learnt that Pakistan is trying to forge a Free Trade Agreement with Bangladesh with a view to ''weakening the SAFTA'' Agreement even as it has just come into operation.

While the SAFTA Agreement came into force from January 1, this year, the all-important TLP was to start from July onwards.

''Pakistan has not lived up to our expectations as it continues with its Positive list'', Mr Ramesh said. He said in the absence of any dispute settlement mechanism within the SAFTA, India has taken up the issue with the SAARC Secretariat and hopes that Pakistan would reconsider its reluctance to dispense with the Positive list.

He said in the overall interest of building good political relations India has not approached the WTO Dispute Settlement Body for seeking the MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status from Pakistan.

While India has extended the MFN status to its neighbour, New Delhi has not received a similar treatment from Islamabad.

In his letter, Mr Kamal Nath informed the SAARC Secretariat that the Government of Pakistan had ratified the SAFTA without any reservations. ''Therefore, the SRO notified by the Government of Pakistan on July 1 is against the letter and spirit of the SAFTA Agreement,'' he said.

UNI PC PV BD1630

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