Sub-regional Asian summit calls for closer ties, free trade pact

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NEW DELHI, November 13, 2008 (AFP) – A regional grouping of seven South and Southeast Asian countries on Thursday agreed to improve relations and called for the conclusion of negotiations on a free trade agreement. The group’s last summit was held in Thailand in 2004. The top leaders of the seven nations that form the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) met for the second time in New Delhi since the group was formed in 1997.

“Considerable progress has been made in the negotiations on the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement for trade in goods,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as the two-day summit that ended Thursday.

A free trade pact could boost trade among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand by up to 50 billion dollars, officials said.

“The early conclusion of such an agreement would be a shining symbol of our cooperation,” Singh told the summit.

The grouping also decided to boost cooperation in food, energy and maritime security, battling climate change and improving trade, transport and cultural links.

The seven nations also agreed to fight terrorism, with Sri Lanka calling for tighter security in the