South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretary General Arjun Bahadur Thapa has underscored the need for promotion of trade and economic cooperation between the member states of SAARC.
The general secretary was talking to LCCI Senior Vice President Almas Hyder and Vice President Nasir Saeed at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
He said he felt great pleasure to be in Pakistan and was thankful to the government of Pakistan and business community for holding 12th SAARC trade fair for which he had been looking for the last three years.
He said seven areas of cooperation had been identified to boost intra-SAARC trade. He said that issues of visa should be resolved and there should be no visa restriction for the businessmen. He said they should improve understanding to get trade and economic scenario within the SAARC region better.
He said the businessmen of SAARC member states could influence their respective governments and advise them how to make trade and economic relations better. The SAARC SG also lauded the efforts of Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry for promoting intra-SAARC trade which was need of the hour.
LCCI Senior Vice President Almas Hyder said they had to bring an emphatic change in the bilateral trade among the SAARC member countries as being done in the European Union. He urged the need for removing the hidden barriers, which were hampering trade between the SAARC countries.
The LCCI senior vice president said that there was no doubt that SAARC had a great potential for regional trade which was estimated to be around dollar 100 billion but currently it was ranging dollar 28 to 30 billion. He said they could make it look much better if they encouraged trade and investment within the region rather preferring trade via third countries.
He said that though it seems difficult but it is not impossible that we must collaborate with each other with confidence and trust especially focusing on easing trade and visa restrictions. For that matter, we have to encourage people-to-people contacts, cooperate in all fields of life and explore such avenues of liaison which can promote feel-good factors among us.
He said that opening up of the SAARC market was need of the hour. In this scenario, most important point was a balanced, rather a cautious approach, at the early stages to begin with. The basic outline of that cautious approach should be a better usage of the SAFTA statutory drafts for safeguarding the legitimate interests of the local industries in smaller economies, he added.
He said the implementation of these safeguard tools would allow much-needed breathing space to tune up their long-term response. He said the cost of intra-SAARC trade was among the highest in the world. “It leads to lower and restricted trade among the countries in the region and limits positive impact of cut in tariffs.”
Almas Hyder said that regional economic integration could be achieved without comprehensively addressing the politically instigated issues and infrastructural problems, both at country and regional level.
LCCI Vice President Nasir Saeed said that the member states of SAARC were still far from their goal of regional economic integration. “It is important to build a sound foundation without which the goal of South Asian Economic Union would only remain a dream.”
“Efforts should also be made to accelerate tariff liberalisation programme. It is imperative to develop and forge regional cooperation in different areas, though implementation would primarily require strong will and commitment shown by all the heads of states,” Nasir Saeed concluded.