BIMSTEC leaders set year-end deadline for trade pact

Nay Pyi Taw, March 4: Mindful of the delays, the two-day BIMSTEC Summit concluded in this Myanmar capital Tuesday with the leaders setting a year-end deadline for a free trade pact among the seven-nation grouping.

In a declaration, the leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, directed the negotiating committee to expedite work for concluding the Agreement on Trade in Goods by the end of 2014.

In 2004, the finance and trade ministers of the BIMSTEC countries had agreed to establish a free trade area by June 2012. A few years later, the deadline was advanced to June 2010.

The pact, when signed, will lead to reduced tariff on commerce among the member countries as also liberalise trade in goods, services and investment.

The grouping comprises India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, which together account for 20 percent of the global population and a collective GDP of $2.5 trillion.

The declaration also said the trade committee must continue its efforts for early finalization of the agreement on services and investments, besides the pacts on disputes settlement and assistance on customs.

They also named Sri Lankan diplomat Sumith Nakandala, a former deputy high commissioner to India, as the first secretary general of BIMSTEC, which will have its permanent secretariat in Dhaka.

The secretariat will function from May.

The declaration expressed satisfaction over the close cooperation among the security agencies of member countries and called for early conclusion of a convention among them on combating international crime.

The declaration also called for cooperation in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, horticulture, tourism, disaster management, climate change, healthcare, people-to-people exchange and poverty reduction.

IANS