ADDU CITY, Maldives, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to promote fair trade in the region at the opening ceremony of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) here on Thursday.
He spoke positively of the progress made in SAARC, terming it as “impressive” and pointed out that many sectors including trade, transport, health and education have benefited from it.it.
“Our summit is taking place at a time when the West is having an economic crisis. In the meantime developing countries like ours will be squeezed for capital and markets and we should look for innovative solutions within South Asian region,” he said.
Development within countries would attract foreign investors and freeing of trade between SAARC members would create benefit for all nations.
South Asia has been able to maintain a respectable growth rate and this encouraging trend has resulted in the integration of SAARC and shows the region is on the right path.
He urged for this process to continue and admitted that India has a special responsibility to make a trade liberalization method that would reduce the sensitive list of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement.
He insisted that India is committed to free and fair trade in the region. He dismissed concerns that smaller economies would be flooded out and stressed that each country has a competitive advantage that can drive consumption and economic growth.
“India is fully committed to economic integration. Connectivity has improved between the members but we must take steps to finalize the regional airways and railways as well as mortar agreements for a long time. Let us commit to completing these plans.”
He also encouraged integrated health mechanisms initiated by Sri Lanka and the Maldives and called for more involvement from other members.
As for reducing telecommunication tariffs, he said that India is ready for a regional platform to develop telecommunication and lower call rates. Broadcasting and film making was also promoted by him.
“Host a conclave to boost tourism, traveling exhibition on history of south Asia including 100 archeological pieces selected by respective countries and will be hosted in each of the main museums. India will also increase SAARC scholarships from 15 to 100, mostly for masters and doctoral level.”
“We have a long way to go but I am confident we can realize our true potential. We have to learn to trust each other and learn from each other. We cannot afford to allow the many problems that we face to stand in the way of our ambitions. Let us challenge ourselves to do even better.”
Established in 1985, the SAARC groups India, Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Afghanistan joined the organization in 2007.
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