Addu Atoll (Maldives): In a major trade liberalisation move, India on Thursday announced the reduction of the 'sensitive list' for least developed countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area Agreement (SAFTA) from the existing 480 tariff lines to 25 tariff lines.

Addressing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit at Maldives' southernmost atoll (Maldives is a country of 1,190 islands of which 200 are inhabited), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh India will give zero basic customs duty access to all items removed from the list immediately.

“I am happy to announce that, in a major trade liberalisation effort, the government of India has issued a notification to reduce the sensitive list for the Least Developed Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area Agreement from 480 tariff lines to 25 tariff lines,” he said in his address, amidst roaring applause from the region's delegates.

“Zero basic customs duty access will be given for all items removed with immediate effect,” he added.

Lets trust each other: PM

Soon after a successful meet with his Pakistani counterpart, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday called for all South Asian nations to 'trust each other' and to 'put aside our differences', so that they can 'challenge ourselves to do even better'.

Manmohan Singh also noted that the security and stability of the eight member-nations are closely interlinked and that none can prosper in isolation.

“SAARC provides us a unique platform to put aside our differences and work towards a higher calling. We have a long way to go. But I am confidence we can rise to our true potential through sustained efforts. We have to learn to trust each other and learn from each other,” he told the summit attended by the heads of states and governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, apart from Pakistan.

“The security and stability of our countries are closely interlinked and none of us can prosper in isolation. We cannot allow the many problems we face to stand in the way of our ambitions and dreams,” he said in his 15-minute address.

The Prime Minister also announced a series of measures to build capacities of the SAARC nations by increasing the scholarships in the South Asian University, functioning for the last two years in New Delhi, and offering new scholarships in forestry at the Indian Forestry Institute in Dehradun.

He also called for increasing people-to-people contact and for information flow about region to people of the member-states.

India also offered to host a tour operators meet and to promote 100 archeological sites in each of the eight nations. 'Let out people know more about each other,' he said.

India announces capacity-building initiatives for SAARC

India committed itself to building capacities of SAARC nations by announcing a slew of measures in educational and cultural fields, apart from calling for greater linkages between the eight nations in the connectivity, communication and information sectors.

Among the measures announced by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit at this Maldivian city are an increase in the scholarships at the New Delhi-based South Asian University from 50 to 100, of which 75 would be for masters and 25 for doctoral research, apart from 10 scholarships for post-graduate and doctoral studies at the Dehradun-based Forest Research Institute.

India unveils duty cuts for SAARC LDCs

Stressing that the global economy is 'under stress,' India announced trade concession for poorer SAARC countries and exhorted the grouping's members 'to put aside differences' and work towards the 'higher calling' of regional integration through more trade and all-round connectivity.

Speaking at the plenary of the two-day South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit that began here Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushed for 'complete normalisation of trade relations' in South Asia and for a SAARC investment pact.  Stressing that India has a 'special responsibility' that flows from the size of its economy, he announced the decision to reduce the sensitive lists for the least developed countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area Agreement from 480 tariff lines to 25.

Under the SAFTA agreement, member countries are allowed to retain a 'sensitive list' of goods that do not attract concessional treatment. Now, the least developed countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal will have increased access to Indian markets. Tariff line refers to a category in a country's tariff schedule.