SAARC finance ministers meet

Kathmandu, August 20

The meeting of the finance ministers of SAARC member states vowed to move towards establishing the South Asian Economic Union (SAEU), as directed by the SAARC leaders. The seventh SAARC finance ministers’ meeting, held here today, has given a necessary impetus to move towards better regional integration envisaged by the 18th SAARC summit held on November 26 and 27, last year in Nepal.

“SAARC member nations will have to go through different phases like forming customs union, common market and monetary union to achieve the target of SAEU,” said Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat after concluding the meeting. “South Asian nations should move towards faster trade liberalisation within the region through harmonisation of customs procedures, standards, reducing high trade and transit cost, and developing better infrastructure.”

The meeting also discussed on the current status of economic and financial cooperation in the region emphasising the urgency in making progress with regard to further and faster trade liberalisation under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), harmonisation of customs procedures and documentation, harmonisation of standards of identified products, finalisation of Schedules of Specific Commitments under SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS), and regional connectivity, all of which are necessary measures to move towards SAEU.

Though the establishment of SAARC Development Bank was included in the agenda, it was decided not to give it much emphasis, and the focus was more on the better utilisation of SAARC Development Fund (SDF) in infrastructure and economic sectors, which is largely mobilised in social sector. The meeting agreed to mobilise SDF in infrastructure sector like, energy and connectivity and a mechanism will be developed at the earliest to utilise SDF accordingly. Member states have opined that it would be too early to establish the SAARC Development Bank, citing the current utilisation status of SDF, as per Mahat.

Similarly, on Currency Swap Arrangements and trading in local currencies of the member states, the meeting recommended that the forthcoming eighth meeting of the Inter-Governmental Expert Group on Financial Issues may examine the proposal and make its recommendations.

The meeting has also reviewed the progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the sixth meeting of SAARC finance ministers, and emphasised on the urgency in implementing the prioritised recommendations of the Study on Regional Economic Integration.

The finance ministers’ meeting also adopted the report of the SAARC finance secretaries’ meeting held on August 19, in the Capital, which had considered and approved various reports, including the report of the seventh meeting of Inter-Governmental Expert Group on Financial Issues, report of the SAARC-Asian Development Bank Special Meeting on Regional Economic Integration Study (Phase-II) held in Goa, India on April 14 and 15 and the reports of the third and the fourth meetings of Competent Authorities on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters held in Thimphu and New Delhi on July 28 and 29 of last year and April 23 and 24 this year, respectively.

The finance ministers’ meeting was inaugurated by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. Addressing the inaugural function, PM Koirala stated that vast opportunities endowed with both human and natural resources, and collective political will and joint efforts could make a difference in changing the development landscape of the SAARC region.