SAFTA Committee of Experts meet kicks off

Kathmandu, August 31:

The 10th meeting of Committee of Experts (CoE) kicked off here today to finalise the draft of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement. “Today’s meeting opened with exchange of country’s position on two issues; rules of origin (RoO) and technical assistance to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the respective member countries,” said an official, who is a member of Nepali delegation.

The meeting — what officials claim, as the final one to finalise the SAFTA draft accord being held at SAARC Secretariat — will last till September 3. The four outstanding issues that have remained unsettled during previous nine rounds of talks among the officials of member countries will be prime agenda for this meeting, too.

Sensitive lists, SAFTA rules of origin, mechanism of compensation of revenue loss and technical assistance to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are the major issues that the CoE is entrusted to finalise. As per the agreement reached in earlier negotiations, the proposed FTA among SAARC members is likely to adopt a 40 per cent value-addition norm under the rules of origin and has pledged 10 per cent derogation for the Least Developed Countires.

However, Nepal has asked for 20 per cent value-addition with a special derogation for some products along with change in the four-digit tariff heading. The meeting is to decide on this matter along with Sri Lanka’s request for a special derogation. If failed to finalise the outstanding issues even during this meeting, the implementation of the South Asian Free Trade Area agreement will be uncertain, as the last SAARC Summit has already endorsed its date of execution from January 1 next year.

The meeting is expected to iron out the differences among the seven members of the South Asia, as it will pave the way to a free trade practice in the region.