SAARC nations sign energy deal, salvage summit

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    Kathmandu: SAARC countries today managed to salvage their summit by agreeing to a last-minute deal to trade electricity… agreeing to a last-minute deal to trade electricity among them after Pakistan torpedoed proposals for greater regional connectivity SAARC leaders agreed to a last-minute deal to trade electricity among them after Pakistan torpedoed proposals for greater regional connectivity. (PTI)

    SAARC countries today managed to salvage their summit by agreeing to a last-minute deal to trade electricity among them after Pakistan torpedoed proposals backed by India and other nations of the bloc for greater regional connectivity.

    Before the SAARC summit concluded here, Foreign Ministers of all the eight countries signed the framework agreement on cooperation in power sector which will ensure electricity trading through grid connectivity but the two pacts on motor vehicle and railways could not be inked following resistance by Pakistan.

    Pakistan had opposed the energy pact citing non- completion of internal process but finally agreed to sign it after heads of states and governments took up the matter with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a retreat session in a resort in Dhulikhel, a tourist paradise near the Nepalese capital.

    SAARC chair and Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala announced at the concluding session that three months time has been fixed for according approval to the connectivity pacts which will encourage people-to-people contact and movement of goods.

    At the end of the two-day SAARC summit, which took place after a gap of three years, a ‘Kathmandu Declaration’ was adopted which said the leaders recognised that after nearly 30 years of its existence, it was time to “reinvigorate” SAARC’s regional cooperation and “revitalise” the bloc as an effective vehicle to fulfill the developmental aspirations of the people.

    Describing the summit as “successful”, India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said there were some “difficulties” yesterday which were resolved in a “graduated” manner.

    He said the Indian side returns “satisfied” with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “first successful SAARC Summit”.

    The declaration said the leaders unequivocally condemned terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations and underlined the need for effective cooperation among the member states to combat them.

    “They (SAARC leaders) directed respective authorities to ensure full and effective implementation of the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism,” the declaration said.

    Thanking the leaders for giving the opportunity to host the next SAARC Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, “The 18th SAARC summit has reaffirmed our resolve to create an inclusive, just, equitable partnership of peace, development and prosperity under the platform of SAARC.”

    “We must adopt a realistic, pragmatic and step-by-step approach towards solution of issues which will open up new channel of cooperation,” he said.

    The SAARC member countries are India, the Maldives,  Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

    The two-day SAARC Summit was attended by Presidents of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Prime Ministers of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

    After the opening day yesterday, the leaders went for a three-hour long retreat at Dhulikhel near here before attending the concluding session.

    The summit declaration identified trade as a key area with leaders renewing their commitment to achieve South Asian Economic Union (SAEU) in a phased and planned manner through a free trade area, a customs union, a common market, and a common economic and monetary union.

    The SAARC also directed SAFTA Ministerial Council and SAFTA Committee of Experts to accelerate free trade in goods and services in the region by putting into operation simplified and transparent rules of origin, trade facilitation and removing technical barriers to trade.

    To facilitate increased trade, the SAARC leaders favoured streamlining and simplification of customs procedures, elimination of non-tariff and para-tariff barriers and smooth and efficient transit and transport facilities.

    They also called for early operationalisation of SATIS (SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services) by finalising the schedule of commitments.

    The leaders also agreed to strengthen the Social Window of the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) and operationalise its Economic Window and Infrastructure Window at the earliest for effective implementation of regional and sub-regional projects.

    Expressing strong determination to deepen regional integration for peace, stability and prosperity in South Asia, the leaders stressed on intensifying cooperation in trade, investment, finance, energy, security, infrastructure, connectivity and culture as well as implementing projects in a result-oriented and time-bound manner.

    On the connectivity pacts, the declaration said it was agreed to hold a meeting of the transport ministers within three months in order to finalise the agreements for approval.

    “They (SAARC leaders) renewed their commitment to substantially enhance regional connectivity in a seamless manner through building and upgrading roads, railways, waterways infrastructure, energy grids, communications and air links to ensure smooth cross-border flow of goods, services, capital, technology and people,” the declaration said.

    “The leaders emphasised the need for linking South Asia with contiguous regions, including Central Asia, and beyond by all modes of connectivity and directed relevant authorities to initiate national, regional and sub regional measures and necessary arrangements,” it said.

    The SAARC leaders also directed the relevant SAARC bodies and mechanisms to identify regional and sub-regional projects in the area of power generation, transmission and power trade, including hydropower, natural gas, solar, wind and bio-fuel.

    They also called for implementing them with high priority with a view to meet the increasing demand for power in the region.

    The eight-member regional bloc directed its concerned committee to engage observer countries into “productive and demand-driven” projects in priority areas, increasing the engagement level with them.