The 20-point Addu Declaration clearly indicates the role India plays in shaping SAARC's agenda. Prasanna D Zore reports
The 17th SAARC Summit concluded on Friday in Addu City, Maldives with the eight-member body declaring to promote the region globally as destination 'South Asia'.
The focus of Addu Declaration, however, was on speedy implementation of India's brainchild SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) and reduction of 'sensitive lists', which indicated India's influence in the making of the declaration.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address at the inaugural speech on November 10 had set the tone of the summit when he declared that India would reduce the 'sensitive list' for least developed countries in the regional association.
In brief, the more the items of the sensitive lists between two trading nations lesser is the free movement of goods and services.
"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. Zero basic customs duty access will be given for all items removed with immediate effect," Dr Singh declared to a loud applause from the members of SAARC.
Combined with Pakistan's recent grant of most favoured nation status to India, this reduction in the sensitive list and tariff reduction once implemented will boost India's trade not only with Pakistan but also with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives, considered as LDCs in the SAARC formation.
Echoing the Indian prime minister the Addu Declaration states that it would direct the SAFTA Ministerial Council to intensify efforts to fully and effectively implement SAFTA and the work on reduction in sensitive lists as well as early resolution of non-tariff barriers and expediting the process of harmonising standards and customs procedures.
Currently, the intra-trade between SAARC nations is clipped at 5 per cent of their gross domestic product.
Dr Singh had observed with concern that non-tariff barriers obstruct free trade and impedes growth. He had also declared, once these non-tariff barriers come down, all SAARC nations would benefit from the endeavour.
Seen in this context, the 20-point Addu Declaration clearly indicates the role India plays in shaping SAARC's agenda.
However, the Addu Declaration has failed to address India's concern on terrorism.
Given the fact that India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for more than three decades now, and by the admission of Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik that "incidents like 26/11 happen every day in Pakistan," the Addu Declaration has clubbed terrorism, transnational organised crimes, illegal trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances, illegal human trafficking, piracy and smuggling of small arms together, albeit briefly.
The issue of terrorism getting short shrift could perhaps have been at Pakistan's insistence, who India has been asserting to be sponsoring cross-border terrorism. Also, one is tempted to believe that India raking up the issue of terrorism could have possibly diluted the goodwill created by the bilateral meeting between the heads of India and Pakistan, who avowed to write a new chapter in the history of the two nations.
Touching upon terrorism, the Addu Declaration states: To root out terrorism, taking into account its linkages with illegal trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and small arms and to make coordinated and concerted efforts to combat terrorism; and call for an early conclusion of the proposed UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and completion of the ratification of the SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
Incidentally, terrorism finds mention exactly in the middle of the 20-point Declaration.
Coming back to the main thrust the Addu Declaration states that it would direct the SAARC finance ministers to chart a proposal to allow greater flow of financial capital and intra-regional long-term investment.
In their bid to sound in consonance with the theme of the 17th SAARC Summit -- Building Bridges -- coined by the Maldives, the SAARC nations have agreed to conclude the Regional Railways Agreement. In this respect, it plans to convene the expert group meeting on the Motor Vehicles Agreement before the next Session of the Council of Ministers.
The SAARC nations will soon conduct a demonstration run of a container train through Bangladesh, India and Nepal boosting movement of people and goods that will further help integrate SAARC nations economically and socially.
The Addu Declaration will direct the secretary general, SAARC, to ensure completion of the preparatory work on the Indian Ocean Cargo and Passenger Ferry Service, including the feasibility study, by the end of 2011, in order to launch the ferry service. Once this ferry service becomes reality it is likely to boost trade relations and movement of people to the island nation of Maldives.