Foreign ministers of SAARC countries have agreed in principle to grant observer status to the US, South Korea and the European Union.
The foreign ministers reached the agreement in a scheduled informal meeting aside the ongoing session of the SAARC Council of Ministers that got off to a formal start here on Tuesday afternoon, with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia inaugurating the two-day meeting.
A senior official of Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, who was present at the meeting, said that the foreign ministers were focused on resolving the disputes between India and Pakistan over the operationalisation of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
At the 13th Summit held in Dhaka last November, the SAARC leaders provided observer status to China and Japan and full membership to Afghanistan.
They will formally join the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at its 14th summit to be held in India next year.
Tuesday's SAARC Council of Ministers' information meeting was attended by Bhutanese Foreign Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed, Maldives State Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdullah Shahid, Nepal's Foreign Minister KP Sharma Oli, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
The Council of Ministers that will sit for a working session Wednesday also considered various recommendations made by the SAARC Standing Committee that concluded its meeting on Tuesday.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin, who chaired the two-day standing committee meeting, told reporters that they endorsed SAARC budget of $1.89 million and the SAARC secretary general's report.
He said the Standing Committee stressed the need for ratification and implementation of three trade-related agreements - Customs cooperation, Arbitration and Avoidance of Double taxation - signed at the Dhaka summit.