Jan 16, 2014, 11:42 PM
News Code: 80998889
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5th SAARC Business Leaders Conclave kicks off in Delhi

New Delhi, Jan 16, IRNA – 5th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Business Leaders Conclave kicked off Thursday evening at Federation House of India's apex industry body FICCI in New Delhi.

India's Minister for Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma inaugurated the two-day conclave being organized at the successful conclusion of two years of India’s Presidency of SAARC Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Anand Sharma announced the Indian government’s support to a liberalized regional visa regime and more than doubling of the number of business visa exemption stickers from the current level of 200 to 500.

He emphasized the need for activating and concluding the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services as growth in manufacturing will necessarily give rise to a greater demand for services.

“We need to learn from the positive spin offs that have come from regional economic agreements such as NAFTA and the economic integration that is demonstrated by the European Union.”

Sharma called for the establishment of linkages amongst the financial institutions of the SAARC nations and said that “We support the industry’s demand for opening of Indian banks in each SAARC country,” to support businesses and act as a catalyst to greater economic engagement.

“We need to build an edifice of trust, cooperation and friendship in the region,” he said and added that the ‘South Asian Century’ will be influenced by the century of Asia and Africa. The Asian economic integration will be complete only when South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, gets fully integrated, he emphasized.

Addressing the conclave Ahmed Saleem, Secretary General, SAARC, noted that while cooperation in diverse areas has grown significantly over the years, it was up to the potential as most goods in South Asia are still procured from outside the SAARC region.

He announced that the SAARC nations were close to finalizing an intra-SAARC investment agreement and that substantive progress had been made under the SAFTA agreement.

Member nations were close to reducing the sensitive list of import items and the process of dismantling non-tariff barriers to trade was on, Saleem added.

Mr. Sidharth Birla, President, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said, “As we move forward, the real test for SAARC will be to benefit from globalization and deeper regional integration, eventually creating a South Asian Economic Union.'

To achieve this goal, a shift from ‘independence’ to ‘interdependence’ is needed.

He said data on South Asia shows we have a high degree of dependence on extra-regional trade and investments.

“We can take greater advantage in the supply of manufactured goods by developing regionally integrated value chains. Similarly, we are behind other regions in terms of integration of services trade, which, in turn, leads to greater people-to-people interaction,” he pointed out.

The conclave assumes a great significance where the Commerce Ministers from SAARC countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal were present at a common platform and deliberate upon the key issues concerning SAARC.

All the ministers shared this view and endorsed Sharma concerns over modernisation of infrastructure.

Further, all the ministers asserted their desire to strongly build the SAARC region as huge potential exists for trade and investments.

FICCI organized the '5th SAARC Business Leaders Conclave' in association with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India and the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry.