Secretary General of SAARC Arjun Bahadur Thapa has underscored the need for promotion of trade and economic cooperation between the member states of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

He was talking to LCCI Senior Vice President Almas Hyder and Vice President Nasir Saeed here at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

SAARC secretary general said that seven areas of cooperation have been identified give boost intra-SAARC trade. He said that issues of visa should be resolved while there should be no visa restriction for the businessmen. He said that we should improve understanding to get trade & economic scenario within the SAARC region better.

He said that businessmen of SAARC member states can influence their respective governments and advice them how to make trade and economic relations better. SAARC SG also lauded the efforts of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry for promoting intra-SAARC trade which is need of the hour.

LCCI Senior Vice President Almas Hyder said that we have to bring an emphatic change in the bilateral trade among the SAARC member countries as being done in the European Union. He urged the need for removing the hidden barriers, which are hampering trade between the SAARC countries.

LCCI Senior Vice President said that there is no doubt that SAARC has a great potential for regional trade which is estimated to be around 100 billion dollars but currently it is between 28 to 30 billion.

He said that we can make it look much better if we encourage trade and investment within the region rather preferring trade via third countries.

He said that though it seems difficult but it is not impossible that we must collaborate with each other with confidence and trust especially focusing on easing trade and visa restrictions. “For that matter, we have to encourage people-to-people contacts, cooperate in all fields of life and explore such avenues of liaison which can promote feel-good factors among us.”

He said that opening up of the SAARC market is the need of the hour. In this scenario, most important point to be noted is that a balanced, rather a cautious approach needed to be adopted at the early stages to begin with.

The basic outline of that cautious approach should be a better usage of the SAFTA statutory drafts for safeguarding the legitimate interests of the local industries in smaller economies. He said that the implementation of these safeguard tools would allow much-needed breathing space to tune up their long-term response.

He said that the cost of intra SAARC trade is among the highest in the world. It leads to lower and restricted trade among the countries in the region and limits positive impact of cut in tariffs. Almas Hyder said that regional economic integration cannot be achieved without comprehensively addressing the politically instigated issues and infrastructural problems, both at country and regional level.

LCCI Vice President Nasir Saeed said that the member states of SAARC are still far from their goal of regional economic integration. It is important to build a sound foundation without which the goal of South Asian Economic Union would only remain a dream.

“Efforts should also be made to accelerate tariff liberalization program. It is imperative to develop and forge regional cooperation in different areas, though implementation would primarily require strong will and commitment shown by all the heads of states” Nasir Saeed concluded.