The eight-member grouping needs to "move faster and to add momentum to our cooperation within the SAARC framework," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said while acknowledging that the overall direction of "our progress is positive".
    
"The comprehensive study on SAARC by the SAARC Secretariat and the deliberations on Wednesday serve to underline the importance of taking a holistic view towards institutional reform," he said at the SAARC Foreign Minister's meeting here in the Maldivian capital.
    
"The SAARC needs to clarify its thinking on the nature and the direction of its relationships with partner States who have Observer status. Some of the Observer States have done commendable work with our Association, but it is important that we define a clear set of policies and objectives for these relationships and their future direction, before we move further."
    
Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar and US are the nine observer states to the SAARC.
    
"The SAARC has traversed a significant distance since it came into being in 1985. There is little doubt about its achievements...while the overall direction of our progress is positive, we need to move faster and to add momentum to our cooperation within the SAARC framework," said Khurshid.
    
"Our vision of SAARC, underpinned by our historical ties, as a region of friendship, development and shared prosperity remains unchanged. To bring this vision to fruition we need to continue to focus on removing the barriers, physical or otherwise, that stand in the way."
    
India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan are the SAARC countries.

Noting that trade is the most critical factor in accelerating regional economic growth, the minister said, "The agreement on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) was envisaged as playing a pivotal role in this effort."
    
Besides, he called for building common infrastructure which transcends our boundaries and interconnects our region.     

"Our maritime, land and air connectivity is still very tenuous...we must be more imaginative in this sector and think of different ways of connecting our countries, whether through road, rail, and sea or by air or an integrated multi-modal approach for the subcontinent," he said.
    
"Let us work together to infuse greater energy into this organisation, to make it more focused on our core objectives, and to collectively dismantle the barriers which stand in our way."

(Agencies)

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