India unveils duty cuts for SAARC LDCs, says let’s trust each other

November 10th, 2011 - 9:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Addu (Maldives), Nov 10 (IANS) Stressing that the global economy is “under stress,” India Thursday 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.

For non-LDCs India maintains 865 tariff lines in the sensitive list while Pakistan has 1,169 items. Among the other members, Sri Lanka has 1,065; Bangladesh 1,254, Bhutan 157; Maldives 671 and Nepal 1,313 tariff lines under sensitive list.

“Zero basic customs duty access will be given for all items removed with immediate effect,” Manmohan Singh said to applause from leaders sitting in the brand new Equatorial Convention Centre in Addu City which is hosting the first SAARC summit south of the equator.

Underlining his vision of regional integration, he said: “India will do whatever is within our capabilities to make SAARC an effective instrument to deliver on our vision of common peace, shared prosperity and cooperation.”

Striking an upbeat note on impressive progress in SAARC integration, Manmohan Singh called for bridging trust deficit to realize the potential of the region.

“We have to learn to trust each other and to learn from each other,” he said, buoyed by positive bilateral talks he had with the leaders of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

“The destiny of South Asia lies in our own hands. SAARC provides a platform for us to put aside our differences and work towards a higher calling,” he said.

“The security and stability of our countries are closely interlinked. None of us can prosper in isolation to each other. We cannot afford to allow the many problems we face to stand in the way of our ambitions and dreams,” he said.

“Let us challenge ourselves to do even better. I thank you,” he stressed. The prime minister also announced a host of new initiatives to promote intra-regional integration.

India will:

* Host a conclave of the top dozen tour operators from the SAARC region to boost tourism exchanges

* Set up a travelling exhibition on the ancient history of South Asia

* Increase the number of SAARC Silver Jubilee Scholarships for the South Asian University from 50 to 100; 75 of these will be at the masters level and 25 at the doctoral level

* Provide 10 scholarships per year to SAARC nations for post-graduate and doctoral studies in forestry courses at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun.

Placing the economic future of SAARC in the larger context of eurozone recession, Manmohan Singh said the summit was taking place at a time “when the global economy is under stress” and hoped that leaders of the major economies will show “the wisdom and will that are required to revive the global economy.”

This has created a fresh opportunity for South Asia which “is increasingly getting plugged into the growth dynamic of Asia,” he said, while stressing on India’s commitment to free and balanced growth of trade in South Asia.

He stressed that South Asian countries can benefit from each other’s respective comparative advantages.

Pushing for greater connectivity, the prime minister made a spate of suggestions that included fast-tracking agreements on regional air Services, railways and motor vehicles.

Manmohan Singh called for enhancing telecommunication linkages to reduce call rates and offered to facilitate the development of a regional telecommunications infrastructure to improve the quality of connectivity.

He called for encouraging greater broadcasting, television and film exchanges among our countries to bridge the information deficit among the SAARC countries.

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