CoE agrees to stick to SAFTA schedule

Indra Gurung

Kathmandu, April 27:

Following three-days of brainstorming sessions among senior officials from the SAARC nations, the Committee of Experts (CoE) has agreed to implement the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement within the agreed time frame.

The eighth round of SAFTA CoE meeting that concluded today in Kathmandu, has agreed to enter into a regional FTA between the seven South Asian countries from January next year. The meeting has also been able to evolve a consensus in addressing three major outstanding issues.

“This meeting was successful compared to previous meetings in evolving a consensus on major outstanding issues like the rules of origin, sensitive list and technical assistance (TA) to least developed countries,” a participant of the meeting told The Himalayan Times.

The issue of TA has been completed, as the developing member countries agreed to provide training and consultancy services to LDCs to compensate for their immediate trade losses.

LDCs have to present details of required TA, particularly on training and consultancy by May 10 to the SAARC secretariat. India and Pakistan will provide training and consultancy services on various sectors like trade on agriculture, textile and WTO-related matters to the LDCs.

The meeting has also evolved a consensus on two crucial issues of rules of origin and the sensitive list. The sensitive lists prepared by each member states were exchanged at the bilateral as well as regional level. When asked about difficulty in implementation of the sensitive list, the source said, “Any difficulty regarding sensitive list in course of implementing SAFTA will be solved at bilateral or regional level.”

The meeting has also prepared a draft procedure on rules of origin. Although member countries agreed on the draft procedure, details on how concessions or privileges will be given to the countries from where raw materials or products are originating are yet to be hammered out.

The member countries have been asked to finalise the matter on rules of origin by the next meeting, scheduled for June 29, 30 and July 1 in Kathmandu. “We agreed to have a mandate from our respective government on the matter and finalise the issue in the next meeting,” said another participant of the meeting.

However, the meeting couldn’t make any progress on compensatory mechanism of revenue loss for the LDCs. The member nations agreed to hold a preliminary meet on June 28, prior to the ninth CoE meet, especially to chart out a win-win revenue compensatory mechanism.

The issues endorsed by CoE will be presented at the meeting of commerce secretaries and then to the ministerial meeting. Once the ministerial endorses the proposals, the decisions will come into effect.