All members of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) representing approximately 1.6 billion people aim to push for the reduction of their sensitive lists substantially, and for the first time the entire bloc is openly calling for stronger private sector involvement in moving forward.
The bloc which accounts for at least US $ 2.4 billion in trade among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members, felt that the ‘sensitive list’ which has a long list of products that does not have tariff concessions was still very high and therefore consider it a hindrance to realise full potential.
“One of the reasons for the slow phase of SAFTA is the sensitive lists. So, our request to reduce sensitive list by at least 20 percent before the 17th SAARC summit would have contributed to trade growth in SAARC,” said the Secretary General of SAARC, Ahmed Salem.
17th SAARC summit was held in 2011 in Maldives.
“Within South Asia, much larger volumes of trade are taking place outside SAFTA. This is mainly due to the bilateral trade agreements among members,” he noted.
Salem further said, a number of suggestions are already being put forward to the Council to reduce bottlenecks in regional trade. To involve the private sector in the SAFTA process, representatives of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry are invited to the special meeting of Committee of Experts on non-tariff and para-tariff measures to present their views and concerns.
Addressing the inaugural event of the seventh SAFTA Ministerial Council meeting 2013 held at Cinnamon Grand Hotel last week Salem said, SAFTA’s regional trade was still low in comparison to ASEAN and NAFTA.
“I am happy to note that the Phase II exercise to reduce sensitive list items and to liberalize trade have been undertaken by member states and two meetings in this regard have already been held,” he remarked.
At the Council meeting, Sri Lanka was elected to chair the SAFTA Ministerial Council till August 24, 2014 and the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen was nominated the new Chairperson.
Delegates from Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Nepal were in Sri Lanka last week for the Council meeting, except Afghanistan.