Vol. 5 Num 571 Tue. January 03, 2006  

Delhi must play key role to ensure Safta benefits for all Saarc states
Says Indian apex industry group

An apex group of Indian industries has said India should play leadership role to ensure that benefits of South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) are shared equally by all Saarc member countries.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said in a statement here on Sunday that the decision by developing countries in Safta to open up their markets faster for the least developed countries (LDCs) in the region can go a long way in improving market access for the LDCs.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the developing countries while Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal comprise the LDCs in the region.

It is the right step towards greater economic integration of the region, it said.

CII estimates that the around seven billion dollar intra-Saarc trade could increase substantially in the next few years if full benefits of Safta accrue to all the seven countries of the economic grouping.

It said trade within Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) can grow from five percent at present to at least ten percent by 2008.

The industrialists' body says there is a need to focus on improving transport links among Saarc countries to ensure greater benefits of tariff cuts under Safta across the region.

The region should be well connected and infrastructure development should be given top priority, it suggested.

Trade and industry circles in India feel while there would be greater market access and more duty concessions for India and other member-countries of Safta, gradual integration of the economies could also result in political stability and faster growth.

Since the applied rate of customs duty applicable on January 1, 2000, would be taken as the base for tariff phase-out, no major duty cuts are necessary as of now. India has already undertaken substantial duty reduction after that date with the average cut at five percentage points per year for most products covered under the peak duty rate, they said.