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Steps To Cut 'Sensitive Lists'

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India on Tuesday announced that it was taking steps to reduce the "sensitive lists" of items for free trade as it pitched for early ratification of a SAARC pact in Trade in Services and finalisation of an agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments to give a fillip to intra-regional commerce. Addressing a conference of SAARC Council of Ministers here, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna regretted that implementation of the agreed decisions was taking time and needed to be speeded up. "I am sure my colleagues will agree that we face a continuing challenge to implement our agreed decisions. We need to move faster in executing the plans of action," he told the conference being attended by Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Pakistan is being represented by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. He did not name any country but was apparently referring to Pakistan which is refusing to implement SAFTA in context of India and has not even ratified the regional Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty agreed during the Colombo Summit in 2008. Krishna said the intra-regional trade in South Asia was growing and crossed $1.2 billion. "This is, however, still well below its potential," he said. He said India is taking steps to reduce the "sensitive lists," especially for the Least Developed Countries, and hoped this would encourage others to respond too. Although India has opened up its market for SAARC countries under SAFTA, it still protects its domestic industry regarding certain sensitive products.

There has been a demand from SAARC members for reduction of items under the list. Referring to the signing of the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) in Thimphu last year, he said it was a "big step forward in broadening the scope of trade in SAARC from goods." He noted that four SAARC member countries have already ratified SATIS and urged others which have not yet done so to take steps to do so soon. Krishna also pointed out that progress had been made on a draft agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments. Terming it as an "extremely useful" agreement, he said he looked forward to its early finalisation so that it could be signed at the next SAARC Summit in Maldives later this year. Underlining that India was fully committed to the SAARC processes, Krishna said the need of the hour was to identify ways and means for the eight-nation grouping to become a more dynamic component of the larger Asian resurgence, characterised by increasing inter-linkages and growing inter-dependence. While delving upon various aspects of the regional matters, he identified terrorism as a "very serious challenge" facing South Asia and noted that SAARC countries were working to cooperate against the scourge. He expressed happiness over the fact that India's proposal to create a South Asia Forum for the exchange of ideas on future development of South Asia has been endorsed by all SAARC members. "We look forward to early nomination of members to the steering committee of the Forum and to hosting the first meeting of the Forum in India before the 17th SAARC Summit in Maldives," he said.


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