Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am truly delighted to be here in this charming city of Colombo for the 15 SAARC Summit. I congratulate President Rajapaksa on his election to the Chair. I am confident that his experience and wisdom will enable us to surmount the challenges that we in SAARC are facing today.
I would also like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the Government and the people of Sri Lanka for the gracious hospitality and warm reception accorded to me, to my wife, and to the members of my delegation.
I take this opportunity to applaud India, in particular to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for leading the organisation so skilfully through the past year. His stewardship has infused a new fervour into our organization.
Sri Lanka’s President H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa with
H.E. Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed Honourable Chief Adviser
Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh
SAARC has crossed significant milestones in forging closer cooperation among our nations. This Summit has rekindled the hope and belief among our peoples regarding the delivery of progress and prosperity that we had collectively promised ourselves some twentyythree years ago. We must not let ourselves down. Let this Summit be the turning point in our endeavours for a more prosperous, peaceful and progressive South Asia.
Poverty Alleviation has been an over arching goal for SAARC. Ironically South Asia is home to almost half of the world's poor. Global economic slowdown, soaring oil and food prices and growing threats of climate change are driving the destitute people of the region even further below the poverty line. We must redouble our efforts to attain the SAARC Development Goals within the targeted timeline. I believe national action on poverty alleviation should be complemented by effective and robust regional initiatives in order to have a penetrative impact on poverty reduction in South Asia. Ensuring self-sufficiency in cereal production and attaining food security would require greater attention to agricultural productivity and should be the critical element in poverty reduction strategy.
Our goal in SAARC is to create new opportunities and to promote linkages for attaining better standards of living for our people. The steady GDP growth seen in all of our countries has led to increase in the purchasing power of our population creating a vast middle class. The Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) was conceived as an instrument for enhancing regional trade leading to greater economic integration. We are happy to welcome Afghanistan into SAFTA which will formally take place with the signing of the Protocol of Accession of Afghanistan to SAFTA. This will complete full integration of Afghanistan into SAARC process.
Despite SAFTA, non -tariff and para - tariff barriers, complicated and cumbersome customs procedures stand in the way of greater intra-regional trade. Similarly, long sensitive list closed to preferential tariff and rigidities in other structural and policy framework stand in the way of our desire to have a fully integrated South Asia. Clearly there is a need to remove these hurdles to enhance intra-regional trade.
Similarly, intra-regional investment flows are very small in South Asia. Given right kind of environment and confidence, the potential for increased intra-regional investment is huge. I feel that restrictive investment regime is one of the inhibiting factors in attracting foreign direct investment. In this context, it is important that the Draft Agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments is finalised at the earliest.
The services sector has emerged as most dynamic with an average annual growth rate of over eight percent. The thirteenth SAARC Summit in Dhaka recognised the potential of this sector and had directed for early finalisation of an agreement in this area. I am happy to note that negotiation is about to commence on a Framework Agreement on Trade in Services. This should pave the way for the trade liberalisation. That will be a "win-win" situation for all of us.
A number of inter-governmental mechanisms have been put in place to move forward the agenda of deepening economic cooperation in the region. However, the pace of trade liberalisation has been less than satisfactory. To move the process forward, it may be useful to set-up a consultative mechanism, which could identify the bottlenecks and recommend practical and effective ways to move the process of trade Iiberalisation towards Customs Union, and finally to Economic Union in a gradual and phased manner.
We are pleased that Charter of the SAARC Development Fund is to be signed at this Summit. The Fund will be an important instrument at our disposal to implement regional projects that would accord visible, tangible and concrete benefits to the member states. Similarly, the establishment of South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) would be an important step towards trade facilitation and greater economic integration in the region. It is heartening that we are also about to sign the Agreement establishing SARSO during this Summit.
Over the years, SAARC has evolved in many ways. The purpose and success of this regional mechanism largely depend on remaining actively engaged on contemporary issues. Security dimension in the region and beyond has thus taken a centre stage in our deliberations. Organized crimes like smuggling, drug and illegal arms trafficking are matters of great concern for us. The deadly fangs of terrorism are spreading across the region. They threaten to disrupt peace and stability.
We must combat the menace of terrorism across the broadest possible spectrum. I would like to reiterate that Bangladesh stands firm in her resolve to deal with these issues , 1 forcefully and effectively. Let me announce unequivocally that Bangladesh is against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Terrorists have perpetrated brutal acts in every part of the world. We condemn the heinous terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan in recent times which caused unnecessary loss of valuable lives.
Bangladesh, as a signatory to international conventions against terrorism, both globally and regionally, is in the process of enacting and modifying relevant domestic laws for their effective implementation at the national level. I am pleased to note the SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters has been finalized and ready for signature at this Summit. I believe this legal
instrument would be an important tool at our disposal for effective and meaningful cooperation in our fight against all serious and organized crimes.
The recent price hike of food globally creating a situation close to food crisis has led us all to reflect deeply on how to ensure our collective food security. This requires our immediate attention to ensure constant and steady supply of food for our people. We need to develop strategies, not only to address short-term supply-side shocks but also to strengthen cooperation to increase agricultural
productivity. This is a must to prevent hunger and malnutrition - one of the key priorities of the Millennium Development Goals. I would stress upon early ratification and operationalization of SMRC Food Bank to address this situation.
Following the path of high growth in the region, we are witnessing tremendous rise in demand for energy. It hardly needs any reiteration that energy plays a vital role in the economic, social and human development, including in poverty alleviation. We must therefore explore all avenues including bilateral, sub-regional and regional cooperation for addressing the supply side-constraints of energy in the region, including capacity building, technology transfer and infrastructure development. The ongoing cooperation in this sector must be intensified. In the wake of sky-rocketing price of fossil fuel, we must harness renewable sources of energy such as hydro-power, solar, bio-fuel and wind to address the energy crisis in the region. We should strive to develop conventional as well as alternate sources of energy to ensure its steady supply at affordable cost. At the same time, we also need to accord greater emphasis on energy conservation and energy efficiency. Achieving energy security is a must if we are to realize our development potentials.
At the core of our efforts is the vision of people's SMRC. People are at the centre of our collective efforts. It is through connecting hearts and minds of South Asians can we hope to build the bridges of trust and confidence that would lead us to a better future. The First SAARC Youth Camp in Dhaka last December was a successful effort in bringing young people from across the region more closer, and affording them a unique opportunity to forge bonds of lasting friendship and amity. Greater interactions among members of civil society, students, teachers, intelligentsia and journalists would create greater standing and sense of togetherness in the region. At the 14th Summit, we had decided to establish the South Asian University in New Delhi. I am told the work on the Main Campus of the University is progressing well. Bangladesh is considering establishment of Dhaka Campus of the South Asian University soon.
Tourism is an effective mean to develop greater "people to people contact". It is important that concerted efforts are taken to implement the comprehensive Plan of Action adopted by the SAARC Tourism Ministers at Cox's Bazaar in 2006. The SAARC Agenda for Culture launched last year is an important step in persevering and protecting the South Asian cultural heritage and buttressing cultural linkages of the region. We must pursue the Agenda whole-heartedly. I believe, these are some of the important elements that will contribute to greater connectivity in the region.
Climate change has become a major cause of concern for us. South Asia is acutely vulnerable to global warming and climate change. The melting of Himalayan glaciers, rising sea level, drought and desertification, increasing salinity in our rivers are most visible manifestations of the changing climate. In South Asia, global warming is rendering natural disasters frequent and more intense, causing greater damages and devastation to lives and livelihood.
I am happy that South Asia is responding to the call of the hour. Last month, Environment Ministers from eight SAARC countries met at Dhaka and adopted an Action Plan on Climate Change. This is the first step in the right direction. It would be important that the Action Plan is implemented and followed through to address climate change issue in the region. We have a long way to go. We must bear in mind that it is our collective responsibility to save our planet for the present and futurity.
At the Council of Minister's Meeting on 31 July 2008, Bangladesh suggested a methodology for structured contacts between our Armed Forces. Already at bilateral levels such links exist. Together we provide a huge majority of the world's peacekeepers. I believe it may be worthwhile to devise such a system that can periodically bring the senior officers of our military forces together to determine how best we can advance our mutual interests. We may also share training facilities under this scheme.
Another point that I wish to raise is with regard to the vast number of workers that SAARC region provides to other parts of the world. We should collaborate to strengthen our capacity to negotiate better terms and conditions of work for them to promote their welfare and to protect their rights.
In this interdependent world, we can only prosper if we act in unison. It is incumbent upon us who have gathered here today to clearly chart out the road map for SAARC for the greater prosperity and welfare of the peoples of South Asia. Our vision is to promote this through accelerated economic growth and social progress across the region. I believe there is a clear political will and commitment to realize this goal. Bangladesh remains deeply committed to making this happen. We shall continue to play our part and take every possible initiative in building the future of our 'South Asian home' as a harmonious abode of peace, progress and prosperity for all our peoples.
(Courtesy : Government of Sri Lanka )