Narendra Modi announced a special funding vehicle, overseen by his country, to finance infrastructure projects in the region, while also proposing a SAARC business travel card and cross-border industrial corridors to facilitate trade.

Seeking better environment for trade among the SAARC nations, Modi said, "India will now give business visa for 3-5 years for SAARC. Let's make it even easier for our businesses through a SAARC Business Traveller Card."

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"Indian companies are investing billions abroad, but less than 1 percent flows into our own region," the Prime Minister said as the two-day, 18th SAARC Summit began at the Nepalese capital.

"It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore, and more expensive to speak to each other," he said. The value of regional trade was estimated at USD 22 billion last year. Giving an example of the lack of economic integration, the Prime Minister said goods today have to travel from one Punjab in India to the other Punjab in Pakistan through New Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai and Karachi, making the journey 11 times longer and four times costlier.

PM Modi further said information technology has removed all barriers to quality education and India was prepared to connect the South Asian students through online course and E-libraries.

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"When we set up India's National Knowledge Network, we will be happy to extend it to the SAARC region.

"The dream of a South Asian University has become a reality in New Delhi. But, to be truly South Asian, it must also have partnerships with at least one university in each SAARC country," he said.

During the course of his 30-minute speech, Modi also referred to India's "gift" of a satellite for the SAARC region and said it will benefit the countries in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication.

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At the same time, he conceded that India, too, had its share of responsibility because of its sheer size and location, and knows well that merchandise from one SAARC nation has to go around the Indian peninsula to reach their destinations.

"Just think of what we are doing to our consumers and to our environment! We must shrink the distance between our producers and consumers and use the most direct routes of trade. I know India has to lead, and we will do our part. I hope, each of you will, too."

The deepening of infrastructure links with Bangladesh through rail, road, power and transit- New era of cooperation with Nepal and Bhutan on energy -A flourishing free trade pact with Sri Lanka- A new pact soon to meet the energy needs of Maldives -Reaching out to Afghanistan despite the distance and difficulties-Train service to Pakistan for better people-to-people connect.

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Modi said infrastructure was the SAARC region's greatest weakness and its most pressing need. "When I thought of coming to Kathmandu by road, it made many officials in India nervous. Because of the condition of roads at the border!" he said.

"I also want to set up a special purpose facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in our region that enhances our connectivity and trade," he said, adding, "We speak of ease of doing business in India. Let's extend this to our region."

The Prime Minister told the assembled leaders that he was aware of India's huge trade surplus with other SAARC countries, which was neither right nor sustainable, and assured, "We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India."

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Simultaneously, he called for the right business environment in the region that can attract Indian capital to produce more for the Indian market and create jobs. This, he added, will also allow the region to take advantage of the natural synergies.

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