SA countries meet to trim sensitive list, open service trade
BHOJ RAJ POUDEL
KATHMANDU, June 16: Officials from eight South Asian countries are convening in the capital next week to shorten the existing list of ´sensitive items´ on which they have refused to trade at zero tariff so that regional economic integration could gain momentum, generate more trade and job opportunities to the people in the region.
Likewise, another working group of technical officials from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is also meeting in the capital to work out a framework for opening services trade in the region.
“We will have separate back-to-back meeting of two different groups under South Asia Free Trade Area, starting from Monday,” said Naindra Prasad Upadhaya, joint secretary at the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies (MoCS).
The first - Working Group on Reduction of Sensitive List (WGRSL) - will negotiate on Monday for downsizing the existing negative list of trading items by 20 percent, as mandated by the SAARC Summit. The second team - Group of Experts - meeting on Tuesday will hold discussions to evolve out a frame work of South Asia Trade in Services (SATIS).
Upadhyaya refused to elaborate, but sources at the MoCS said all member countries have respected the mandate of the Summit to further open up their markets for intra-regional trade and proposed a revised sensitive list, downsizing it from existing long list.
Although SAARC members, including Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan, started to trade without tariff barriers from 2006, the intra-regional trade has not yet made significant headway largely due to the long sensitive list. Presently, the sensitive list has as much as 20 percent of total regional tradable items, and worse still, each member countries have largely included items of others exports interest in the list.
“The commitment is there from all members to further open up their markets, but we are still to see how sincerely they will present themselves in this endeavor,” said the source, adding that WGRSL will discuss a new lists that the member countries will table.
So far, countries have not disclosed what exactly they will reduce from the list. “We ourselves are still preparing the list of the items that can be removed from the existing list,” he told Republica.
If the Working Groups finalizes the cuts, officials said member countries will immediately open their trading under zero tariff facility. If Nepal cuts the list, it will still have 998 items in sensitive list for the least developed countries (LDCs) and 1,086 items for the non LDCs.
Presently, Bangaladesh has 1,233 products in the sensitive list for the LDCs and 1,241 for the non-LDCs. Similarly, India has 480 items in list for the LDCs and 868 for the non-LDCs, Maldives has 681 for all seven SAFTA nations, and Pakistan has 936 items, Srilanka has 1,042 and Afghanistan has 1,072 items on the list.
As for the meeting on SATIS, officials said member countries are still to propose sectors that they will open for service trade. “Negotiations were still on in very basic issues. Hence, the meeting will largely focus on nitty-gritty of the framework accord for trade in services,” said the source.