Noting that trade is the ‘most critical factor in accelerating economic growth’ in South Asia, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said, “Commendable progress has been made in the implementation of SAFTA, yet a lot has to be done.”

The SAFTA was inked by SAARC nations in Islamabad in 2004 with intent of reducing customs duty to ‘zero’ by the end of 2016.

Addressing the 40th session of the Standing Committee of SAARC here in the capital city of Maldives, she said, "Though intra-SAARC trade flows under SAFTA, which have been steadily rising, they still remain a fraction of our total intra-regional trade. Moreover, our total intra-regional trade is a small percentage of our total global trade. This is far below potential."

“There should be no reason why in the 21st century we can’t become more cohesive and connected, and why barriers whether physical or otherwise  cannot be brought down to enable our peoples to connect better with one another, develop relations, and work for mutual benefit,” she added.

The Foreign Secretary further said the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) should spread its wings to fulfill its mandate of financing result-oriented development projects in critical areas.

"We are keen that the SDF is established to promote welfare of the people of the region and at the same time operationalise its Economic and Infrastructure Windows, in addition to the Social Window which is currently up and running," she said.

Singh said a SAARC Museum of Textile and Handicrafts and a training Centre are being established in Delhi to encourage age-old textile traditions of the region.

She also reiterated India's deep and abiding commitment towards SAARC and its objectives, and to sustainable development and shared prosperity in the SAARC region.

"India's resolving work closely with all our neighbouring countries for mutual benefit is unwavering. We believe that it is only through genuine regional integration that our region will be able to realise its full potential as one of the most important regions of the world in terms of economic growth, development and possibilities," said Singh.


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