A host of key issues, including lifting of restrictions for easy movement of goods services, opening new transport connectivity and ways to ensure food security, were discussed today by Foreign Ministers of SAARC countries, ahead of the summit-level deliberations tomorrow.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pitched for focussing on 3 Cs -- Culture, Commerce and Connectivity and particularly emphasised on the need for innovative ways to connect the countries through road and rail, sea and air or through integrated multi-modal transport.
"Enhancing connectivity would not only increase productivity, bring down costs, raise our economic growth and accelerate our common development but also help us remove the endemic poverty in the region," she said.
The Foreign Ministers also deliberated on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) while emphasising on its full implementation to exploit the economic benefits of the region.
More or less the sense in the meeting was the implementation of SAFTA which is important for ensuring economic prosperity in the whole region.
India is pressing hard for implementation of the pact, which came into force on January 1, 2006.
Foreign Ministers of a number of other countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, also underlined the need for improving transport links to fuel growth.
Pakistan's National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaz Aziz said lifting restrictions on movement of goods among the SAARC countries was discussed in details and the Foreign Ministers' meeting prepared a detailed report on the issue.
"Trade and lifting restrictions on movement of goods were discussed in detail. A report on it has also been finalised," he said.
The report will be presented at the two-day summit-level meeting beginning tomorrow, he added.
On economic growth, Swaraj said intra-SAARC trade would accelerate regional economic growth.
"The SAFTA has given some momentum to intra-SAARC trade but it still remains far below potential. India has already taken several measures to boost intra-regional trade, including providing duty-free access to goods from SAARC LDCs," she said.
Swaraj said regional trade can be encouraged by developing production chains, removing logistics bottlenecks, improving both the soft and hard infrastructure for movement of goods, investments, capital flows and services across the region.
"The integration of economic activity can help us in reaping the economies of scale for both trade within the region and the region's trade with the outer world," Swaraj said.
"We need to move faster in this era of globalisation or risk being left behind," she said.
Setting up of a SAARC development fund was also discussed in the meeting.
The SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) along with SAFTA and now the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) are the landmark framework agreements adopted by the regional grouping to promote the economic integration processes, Aziz said.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is made up of eight member-nations - India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
"Number of decisions were taken for presentation at the summit so that the leaders can deliberate on them," Aziz said.
The foreign Ministers also deliberated on dealing with challenges of climate change and ensuring energy security.
Issues relating to health, education and poverty alleviation were also discussed.