Mar 17, Pokhara, Nepal: Reiterating its commitment towards South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Sri Lanka today assured that its engagement with SAARC remains a high priority and called for regional cooperation and integration among the SAARC nations to improve competitiveness and productivity.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera addressing the 37th Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in Pokhara, Nepal on Thursday said Sri Lanka is committed to working with SAARC on promoting regional and multilateral economic cooperation.
The Sri Lankan Minister pointed out that although trade under South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) has been increasing, the total volume of intra-regional trade in SAARC is far below than its actual potential.
"Regional cooperation and integration in South Asia is vital for countries to improve competitiveness and productivity. Open trade, stable and friendly investment policies, could induce more FDI inflow to the region," he pointed out
Minister Samaraweera said that while welcoming joint proposals by several Member States to fast-track the reduction of the sensitive lists under SAFTA, Sri Lanka will also continue consultations with the stakeholders and work towards the further contraction of the existing Sensitive List in a phased manner.
The Minister noted that although poverty alleviation and improving the living conditions of the region's people have always been a priority of SAARC, the region is home for around 44% of the world's poor.
"There is an urgent need for SAARC to take early action to contextualize the newly adopted Sustainable Development agenda and develop an appropriate regional mechanism for its implementation," he stressed.
Speaking of the security challenges the region is facing, the Sri Lankan Minister said, security challenges, both traditional and non-traditional, have become extremely complex and interwoven and the diverse, complex and advanced tactics used by illegal non state actors engaged in terrorism, piracy, trafficking, and smuggling need to be addressed with urgency through cooperation and coordination.
The Minister, pointing out the need to create a greater awareness of the shared cultural linkages at the people to people level in South Asia, said Sri Lanka is taking steps to expand the affairs of the SAARC Cultural Centre in Colombo to promote cultural exchanges, the literature, as well as the inherited knowledge and skills amongst a wider audience in the region and beyond.
In this context, he proposed to organize the next “Galle Literacy Festival”, Sri Lanka's foremost international literary festival held annually in the historic coastal city of Galle, with the patronage of SAARC.
Commenting on the Nepal's recovery from the Earthquake on 25 April 2015, Minister Samaraweera said the ferocity and frequency of natural disasters in the region has been a serious challenge to the people.
He said the earthquake posed a major challenge not only to Nepal but also raised questions on the preparedness of the countries in the region to meet such challenges in the future.
"SAARC's inability, as a regional organization, to respond to the Nepal tragedy effectively reflects the absence of a collective response mechanism to mitigate common threats to the region," the Minister said.
The Minister proposed establishing a new Regional Center for SAARC Environment and Disaster Management Centre (SEDMC) to mainstream the disaster risk reduction, preparedness, climate change adaptation and other priorities, in the region.
Minister Samaraweera said Sri Lanka subscribes to the vision of a robust multi-dimensional cooperation in South Asia, and assured that "Sri Lanka for its part will spare no effort to translate the vision of the SAARC Charter into reality."