Thimphu (Agencies): In an apparent reference to Pakistan,  India on Sunday pressed for implementation of SAFTA in its letter and spirit, as it advocated deepening of intra-SAARC trade.

"SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement) 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," Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told a meeting of SAARC Foreign Secretaries.

She did not name any country but was clearly referring to Pakistan which has refused to implement SAFTA in the context of India and insists on doing trade with it only on
the basis of 'positive list'.

India has been complaining, even to the SAARC Secretariat, that the issue of restricted import of goods from India by Pakistan under the SAFTA was against the letter and spirit of SAFTA.

At present, the direct annual trade between Pakistan and India is around USD 2 billion which has a potential to grow to USD 10 billion. The indirect trade between the two countries is manifold.

Rao also pressed for early ratification of the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services signed at the 16th SAARC Summit in Bhutan last April, saying it will give a boost to realizing the full potential of trade in services in the region.

She also expressed hope 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 emphasized that India was fully committed to working with other SAARC countries to enhance the prosperity of the South Asian region through social development and regional economic integration.

"As we explore consensus to deepen and broaden the (SAARC) 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," Rao said.

Talking about the SAARC during its 25 years of existence, Rao said, "the process is maturing" and the grouping was now gradually focusing on providing more services for the economic and development needs of our people.

She referred to the SAARC Development Fund and said it was an important pillar of SAARC in implementing collaborative projects that bring tangible benefits to the people of the region.

"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 said.

She also talked about the South Asian University (SAU) which commenced courses in New Delhi in August last year with 50 students from all across the region.

Rao said valuable progress has been achieved in developing a regional framework of cooperation in areas such as environment, energy, agriculture, rural development and trade.

Referring to Secretary General Sheelkant Sharma's report, she said it stresses the need to hold SAARC meetings on schedule to ensure timely implementation of decisions.

"We will do our utmost to make this a reality," she said, and welcomed 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  ready for the last Summit."

The two-day meeting of Foreign Secretaries, which began on Sunday, will be followed by two-day meeting of Foreign Ministers.

Over the four days, the eight member countries will discuss various initiatives including visa relaxation, implementation of SAARC Development Fund, Charter of Democracy, SAARC Forum (a track-II mechanism to forge greater integration in the region).