SAFTA :Colombo Hopeful

As hosts of the 15th Saarc summit on Saturday and Sunday, Sri Lanka believes that the much talked about South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) is finally getting off the ground and moving from the declaration phase to its implementation after more than two decades since the fledgling South Asian grouping was formed in 1985.
“Safta became a reality in Colombo and the member states have returned to this island state for its implementation,” emphasised Sri Lanka’s international trade minister G L Peris to media persons in Colombo.
He maintained that a host of critical issues like the environment, climate change, energy security, food security and the continuing menace of terrorism will figure prominently in the deliberations among the heads of state or government.
Sri Lanka is convinced that the summit will witness a turning point in its nascent history.
“There will be progression from adopting declarations to actual implementation of the grouping’s intent in giving an impetus for mutually beneficial and direly needed developmental endeavours,” insisted a senior official in the Sri Lankan foreign ministry.
The Colombo Declaration on Food Security will be signed during the concluding session of the summit on Sunday.
The Saarc standing committee is categorical that Colombo will witness a shift in the spirit and level of cooperation among the member states in taking the “Partnership for the People” theme forward.
Simultaneously, the Saarc leaders are expected to formalise the setting up of the SDF or Saarc Development Fund, an umbrella develop- mental financial institution for the grouping. Mutual as- sistance in criminal matters is also expected to be firmed up.
The meeting of the foreign ministers gets under way Thursday which will prepare the groundwork for the summiteers.
Sri Lankan sources disclosed that on the expansion of Saarc there was an informal discussion.
The debate on this question might crop up at a later stage. There were seven members of Saarc when it came into existence 23 years ago and last year Afghanistan was inducted as the eighth member.
Prior to that in 2005, the grouping invited countries like the United States, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Korea and Mauritius as ob- servers. Concern has been ex- pressed in certain quarters that countries which are outside South Asia should be excluded from Saarc to be effective.
Meanwhile, the South Asia Free Media Association (Safma) met Wednesday and focussed on allowing mass media products to be distributed among the member countries.
The Right to Information was recognised by the international com munity and freedom of information was a fundamental right.
Safma noted that nearly all Saarc countries recognised the need for freedom of information laws but their initiatives required to be reinforced.
More than one hundred journalists including scribes from Afghanistan had gathered here under the Safma banner.

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