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SAARC : A waste of time, effort and money


The SAPTA was based on a ‘’positive list’’ approach and thus, the negotiations were based on product by product approach which was a time consuming process. More ever most actively traded goods were left out of preferential tariffs and non- tariff barriers were not simultaneously addressed when granting tariff preferences. Consequently the SAPTA was not effective in stimulating intra regional trade in the region which averaged about 4%. __________________

by Saybhan Samat From Colombo to Sri Lanka Guardian

(July 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation [SAARC] will hold its summit from July 29th to August 3rd in Colombo. It was originally to be held In Kandy, but due to security reasons it was later decided to hold it in Colombo. Ordinary Sri-Lankans are burdened with a sense of anxiety over this summit meeting ,justifiably so because of so many reasons.

Firstly because while the ordinary masses are asked to tighten their belts and are staggering in the face of the skyrocketing cost of living, the SAARC summit is to cost Sri-Lanka a whopping 3billion rupees. Secondly there is apprehension that to commemorate the anniversary of the July 83 program on the Tamils, the LTTE may stage a sensational attack in Colombo to abort the holding of the SAARC summit. Thirdly most of the countries who will be participating in the summit have expressed apprehension of the prevailing security situation in the island. It has been reported that the Indian prime – minister is to bring his own security to this summit. Finally the citizens of the SAARC countries are very disappointed as the formation of SAARC has in no way improved their living standards, for them SAARC summits are non- events and a wastage of time and money.

Inspired by the monumental success of two other regional organization viz. the European Union [EU] and Association of South East Asian Nations [ASEAN], countries of the Asian region viz. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka formed the South Asian Association for Regional Co- operation which held their first summit in Dhaka in 1985. Recently Afghanistan too has joined the SAARC.

The principles of the SAARC stated that ;-

I. Co-operation within the framework of the Association is based on respect for the principles of sovereignty, equality, territorial, integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and mutual benefits.

II. Such co-operation is to complement and not to substitute bi-lateral or multi –lateral co-operation.

III. Such co-operation should be consistent with bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements of the member states.

IV. Decisions at all levels in SAARC are to be taken on the basis of unanimity.

V. Bi- lateral and contentious issues are excluded from its deliberations.

Unlike the EU, though its member countries having earlier fought two world wars with each other, they co-operated without prejudice or mistrust in the forming and running of the EU.. However in the SAARC there is deep inter- state mistrust in the region and before starting a practical plan in the formative stage, SAARC members were more engaged in confidence building. India adopted a patronizing attitude which was disliked by Pakistan. India’s policy in Bhutan and Sikkim together with interfence in Sri- Lanka by the dropping of provisions to the Tamils in 1987 were viewed with mistrust. On the other hand India felt that the other nations were ganging up against her.

Feeling their way with mistrust, prejudice and suspicion SAARC in the formative years initiated co-operation on non- economic issues considered to be non- controversial and therefore desirable. Most non- economic issues were soft and easy to agree upon, sports, culture and education. Perhaps the only economic issue that entered the SAARC agenda during the early days of the association was the need to combat poverty in the region and setting up an independent commission to look into the matter in 1991. Poverty too was non- controversial and there was unanimity on the issue. Other than poverty during the first decade of SAARC’S operation there were hardly any measures taken to promote economic co-operation in the region.

It was during the start of the second decade of SAARC that economics co- operation came into its agenda. With the birth of SAARC in 1985, only in 1995 did a key component economic connectivity in trade make an entry into th SAARC agenda. Intra- regional trade in goods was to be granted trade preference by the SAPTA.

Before the birth of SAPTA private sector chambers of South Asia took note of the existing open economies of the region, especially after India’s reforms in 1991 and formed the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry [ SCCI] in 1992 to promote trade and investment flows in the region.

The SAPTA was vulnerable to regional politics with a number of negotiation rounds being postponed until the political situation became conducive for negotiations.

The SAPTA was based on a ‘’positive list’’ approach and thus, the negotiations were based on product by product approach which was a time consuming process. More ever most actively traded goods were left out of preferential tariffs and non- tariff barriers were not simultaneously addressed when granting tariff preferences. Consequently the SAPTA was not effective in stimulating intra regional trade in the region which averaged about 4%.

In 1997 at the ninth SAARC summit, a GEP was formed to set goals and a vision for SAARC so that economic co- operation could be made more meaningful. The GEP suggested the following with regard to economic co-operation [a] regional economic integration, including negotiating a treaty on South Asia Free Trade Area [SAFTA] and [b] reforming SAARC institutions. It envisage SAARC customs union, with harmonization of external tariffs by 2015 and SAARC economic, with harmonization of monetary and fiscal policies by 2020. It also recommended a South Asia Development fund [SADF] to finance development activities in the least developed countries.

The SAFTA treaty was ratified at the 12th summit in early 2004 and SAFTA came into operation in July 2006. Even this treaty just like SAPTA for various reasons has not still established any noteworthy inter state trade and economic connectivity and regional integration in South Asia.

It is now 23 years after SAARC was established but it is still unable to get off the ground in any meaningful manner. The political leaders who have been constantly changing and the more permanent officials have not shown any real commitment to the concept. We in South Asia should indeed be ashamed of our selves when we compare our near zero record with that of ASEAN during same period. A pale of apathy hangs on the SAARC. On account of its inability to deliver anything significant to the suffering people of South Asia the whole exercise of SAARC summits and other activities appears to have been a waste of time effort and money of the people of South Asia.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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