Terror clause, trade deadlock queer pitch before SAARC | india | Hindustan Times
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Terror clause, trade deadlock queer pitch before SAARC

The talks for negotiating a South Asian Free Trade Area came to a deadlock following a meeting of commerce secretaries in Islamabad.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2003 15:08 IST

There were setbacks in store for regional cooperation on Wednesday, prior to next month’s Saarc summit in Islamabad. The talks for negotiating a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) came to a deadlock following a meeting of commerce secretaries in Islamabad, a Saarc secretariat official told ht from Islamabad.

As a last-ditch effort, the matter will now be referred to the Saarc standing committee meeting on December 31.

In more bad news for the Saarc summit, even the additional protocol to be added to the Saarc convention on terrorism is plagued by serious differences between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has been insisting on distinguishing between terrorists and freedom fighters in the definition of terrorism that is to be included in the additional protocol. Officials said this proposal was not even made in the original 1987 Saarc Convention on Terrorism.

"In the official meeting in August, India and Pakistan had serious differences on the definition of what constitutes terrorism, and these still persist," a source said.

Another contentious issue is that the members disagree on the domestic measures required in their respective countries to prevent financing of terrorism. While most Saarc countries face terrorism, no consensus seems to be in the offing.

Besides this, the SAFTA deadlock is disappointing considering that it would have boosted intra-regional trade.

India has attached considerable importance to the progress on regional economic issues. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had stressed the same during his recent conversation with his Pakistani counterpart, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

Interestingly at the SAFTA meeting, while the Pakistani response was favourable, it was Bangladesh that played spoil sport, sources said.

It argued that tariffs be brought down to zero-to-five percent in three years.

Bangladesh also insisted that least developed countries (LDC's) be excluded from the sensitive list. This means that even after SAFTA comes into effect, LDC's like Bangladesh can continue trading sensitive items, which may be in the negative list of non-LDC's like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

First Published: Dec 29, 2003 13:00 IST