SAARC Summit concludes with pacts on free trade

Addu (Maldives): The eight-nation SAARC Summit on Friday reached a series of agreements on regional cooperation and decided to consider reducing non-tariff barriers and ad valorem duties to promote freer trade.

The announcement on the agreements was made by host Maldivian President Mohammad Nasheed in the concluding session of the two-day 17th SAARC Summit, which was held for the first time in the southern most point of the island lying south of equator.

Nasheed said the Summit agreed that the SAARC Ministerial Council will work on reducing non-tariff barriers and ad valorem duties to promote trade in the region.

In this context, Nasheed welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s announcement yesterday of India`s decision to slash the sensitive list for Least Developed Countries under SAFTA from 480 tariff lines to just 25. Singh had also announced that zero basic customs duty access will be given for all items removed with immediate effect.

The Maldivian President said the Summit also mandated the Finance Ministers to discuss a mechanism to promote capital flows and investment. With `Building Bridges` as its theme, the Summit agreed to move ahead on a regional railways agreement and a motor vehicle pact, which will make travel among SAARC nations much easier than it is today.

The Summit also agreed to set up a South Asian Postal Union whose Secretariat will be established in India. On security issues, the 8-nation grouping agreed on rapid response to natural disasters and to combat maritime piracy.