Breaking Barriers

DHAKA, Apr.20 (AFP) – The trade ministers of seven South Asian nations said Thursday they had “fruitful” discussions on barriers still impeding a planned regional free trade area. Fruitful discussions were held in a very cordial atmosphere; the implementation of the SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) is now our prime task,” Bangladesh Trade Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury told journalists at the end of the day-long meeting in the capital Dhaka.

“To accomplish this, SAFTA ministerial council and SAFTA council of experts will meet regularly,” he added, without giving further details of the discussions.

The seven nations — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — agreed to implement SAFTA by January 2006 at a regional summit in Islamabad in January 2004.

It was hoped the agreement would pave the way for the world’s biggest free trade area and bring a significant rise in the region’s living standards.

SAARC countries trade mostly with the world’s developed markets — the United States and the European Union — rather than between themselves.

However, differences have persisted among members and prevented the implementation o