Wider Berth

DHAKA, April 21, 2006 (AFP) – South Asian nations have agreed to include services in the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) in a bid to boost regional economic integration, a report said Friday. The decision came at a meeting of South Asian trade ministers in Dhaka that ended Thursday on the free trade pact which came into effect in January and is due to be gradually implemented, Bangaldesh’s state-run news agency said.

The agreement had been mainly focused on trade in goods, making it too “narrowly based,” Commerce Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury said in remarks reported by the BSS news agency.

Now “with inclusion of services in the basket, it will be more realistic … and its benefits to the region will be bigger,” the minister said.

The minister also said India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would cut tariffs on the import of goods from the four other least developed members by 10 percent by July 1 and by 30 percent by December 31.

SAFTA is made up of seven nations — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka which belong to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The countries have set a deadline of 2016 to turn the region int