South Asia summit hopes to reignite regional cooperation, improve trade

World Today

The leaders of eight South Asian countries will gather in Kathmandu, Nepal on Wednesday for a two-day summit to increase economic cooperation in South Asia. CCTV America’s Shweta Bajaj reported this story from Kathmandu.

The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, summit brings together South Asian nations in a region that’s been marred by bilateral disputes such as relations between India and Pakistan.

The organization has been lying dormant for more than two years. One criticism of the group’s lack of activity is that bilateral issues have taken precedence over regional cooperation. Many hope that with more stable and stronger governments in the region, the group will see new life and be more productive.

Bhekh Bahadur Thapa the chair of the SAARC preparatory committee said SAARC members such as India, the Maldives and Bangladesh have recently had elections which have collectively opened a window of opportunity.

While the group signed the South Asia Free Trade Area Agreement in 2006, which has reduced tariffs, the deal is far from reaching its potential. For example, intra-regional trade in goods is 5 percent of total trade, compared to 26 percent among Association of Southeast Asian Nations members.

Other challenges include poor connectivity and the threat of terrorism in the region.

“The pace of SAARC is quite slow. I mean they made a lot of decisions but they have failed to implement those decisions,” said Rajan Bhattarai, a member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly. “Now instead of making new decisions let’s prioritize, list down the top most issues of this region which obviously should be common, perhaps the poverty alleviation. South Asia now is still home to the poorest of poor in the world.”

South Asia summit hopes to reignite regional cooperation, improve trade

The leaders of eight South Asian countries will gather in Kathmandu, Nepal on Wednesday for a two-day summit to increase economic cooperation in South Asia. CCTV America’s Shweta Bajaj reported this story from Kathmandu.