Current Status of SAARC Initiatives

SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation

SAARC Environment and Disaster Management Centre

South Asian Economic Union (SAEU)

In 2014, SAARC countries had agreed to set up a South Asia Economic Union (SAEU) on the lines of European Union by facilitating a common market and removing trade barriers. This had to be achieved in a phased manner going through various stages viz.  Free Trade Area, a Customs Union, a Common Market, and a Common Economic and Monetary Union.

Analysis

The leaders of SAARC countries are great dreamers. They had dreamt of a SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) in 2004 to foster intra-regional trade by creating a unified South Asia market. However, not much has happened since then. In 2014, the intra-regional trade in South Asia accounted only for 5% of total trade and is worth around 0.25 billion dollars which is abysmally low as compared to other such regional organizations. Though a clear road map { from FTA to Monetary Union}, but to begin to move in that direction, South Asian Free Trade agreement (SAFTA) needs to be implemented first. Based on SAFTA experience so far, the SAEU also appears a distant dream.

The socio-economic disparity, political differences and disturbances, mistrust; dangers from non-state actors in internal security, civil and ethnic conflicts etc. are some of the problems which don’t allow realizing a SAFTA or SAEU dream. At the same time, the geographical disparities and challenges hinder the intra-regional trade. Absence of required infra, required financial institution, cross border warehousing facilities, issues of smuggling and so on are some of the other major problems. The progress is slow and mainly visible in recent times in the form of BBIN-MVA.

Kindly note that the countries have also planned to start a SATIS {SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services} to spur trade in services between the countries. It also seems to be a distant reality as of now.

SAARC Development Fund (SDF)

SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement and BBIN-MVA

SAARC Seed Bank Agreement

In 2011, the SAARC Leaders had endorsed a SAARC Seed Bank Agreement and a Framework for Materials Transfer Agreement. Objective of the proposed seed bank was to foster “seed security” in the region; increase seed replacement ratio; address seed shortage via collective action and act as a Regional Seed Security Reserve for member states of SAARC.

This agreement required ratification from all members to come in effect. Out of eight members, only five viz. BBIN & Sri Lanka could ratify the agreement. No action was taken from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Maldives side.

The agreement is thus currently in limbo. There are several other issues related to its functioning, mechanism etc. also which would come to fore only when it comes into existence.

Kindly note that there were talks to set up Regional Vaccine Bank and Regional Livestock Gene Bank also. None of them is in operation right now.

SAARC Satellite

In the 2014 Kathmandu Summit, India had announced launch of a SAARC Satellite, whose total cost (around 235 Crore) would be borne by India and which would help in telecom, TV, DTC, tele-education, telemedicine and disaster management support to neighbour countries. At present, its in planned stage and is supposed to be launched by March 2017. Pakistan opted out of it because of its security interest and saying that they have their own space programme under SUPARCO {Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, its corresponding organization of Pakistan to ISRO}, though Pakistan itself has no capacity to launch a satellite on its own. Pakistan had initially shown interest and also offered to “help” which India rejected.  All SAARC countries apart from Pakistan have signed up the project so far.