New Delhi. In yet again rebuffing regional cooperation to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistan on April 8 skipped a video conference of senior trade officials of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which discussed ways to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on regional trade.
The virtual meeting of the trade officials was a follow-up to a video conference of leaders of the eight member states that was convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15. At that time, Pakistan was the only country not to be represented by its head of government.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement that all SAARC countries except Pakistan participated in the video conference which discussed the impact of travel restrictions and the larger Covid-19 situation on intra-regional trade.
All the countries present during the video conference contributed to discussions on a wide-ranging trade-related agenda in the spirit of “shared interest and a problem-solving approach”. They recognised that the pandemic is “likely to have a considerable adverse impact on trade in the SAARC region”.
The trade officials stressed that new ways should be identified to sustain and expand intra-regional trade until normal trade channels are restored. “The imperative need to maintain essential trade within the SAARC region was viewed as an important thrust area for favourable consideration,” the statement said.
Specific issues addressed during the conference included facilitation of trade through pragmatic solutions such as provisional clearance of imports at preferential duty with suitable conditions, provisional acceptance of digitally signed certificates of origin, acceptance of scanned copies of documents for clearing imports by customs and release of payments by banks, and resolving issues related to exports and imports at land customs stations.
The impact of health issues such as Covid-19 on regional trade and measures to mitigate it emerged as a new focus area for discussion within the larger framework of trade facilitation under SAARC, and the need to enhance the quantum of intra-SAARC trade was highlighted, the statement said.
The seven states that joined the conference proposed to remain in touch through a designated focal point in each country, and the Indian side offered to coordinate this exercise, the statement said.
This will also enable further interaction on ideas and proposed actions for the early restoration of normal trade in the region after movement restrictions related to Covid-19 are lifted.