SAARC pledges to strengthen regional economic integration
The 6th SAARC Finance Ministerial Meeting concluded in Colombo on Friday, passing a resolution to strengthen economic integration in the region.
Participating finance ministers at the meeting expressed commitment to make collective efforts for protecting the region from adverse effects of financial crisis that other major economic in the world are facing. They also expressed worries over weakening local currencies against US dollar, energy crisis and rising price of petroleum products.
The meeting has decided to speed up implementation of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) - a trade agreement to boost regional trade -- by removing existing tariff and non-tariff barriers and enhancing mutual cooperation in key sectors of economy such as tourism and agriculture.
The meeting has cleared the way for SAARC Investment Fund, which has so far been investing on social projects, to expand its programs to economic and infrastructure sectors. It also passed a resolution to organize the meeting of SAARC Finance Ministers and Finance Secretaries in Nepal in 2014.
Addressing the meeting, Finance Minister Shanker Prasad Koirala stressed the need to launch people-centric economic activities for the benefit of people in the region. Saying that trade and investments are keys to trigger inclusive economic growth, he urged countries in the eight-member bloc to double their efforts for removing the roadblocks in regional trade.
Koirala also underscored the necessity to carry forward the concept of SAARC Energy Ring and the regional energy trade. Expressing concern over the continued depreciation of local currencies against US dollar, Koirala asked member countries to put collective efforts for addressing the problem. He also said the member countries should work for closer economic integration in terms of monetary and fiscal measures such as currency convertibility, common customs union, harmonization of standards, reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers, and investment promotion in key economic sectors.
“We can reap the benefits of regional cooperation through active participation of private sector in the exchange of trade, commerce and financial cooperation,” he added.