Kathmandu: SAARC countries need to critically evaluate trade liberalisation under SAFTA to make the process faster and more efficient at an upcoming meeting of the SAFTA Ministerial Council later this month in Bhutan. This was stated by Secretary General of SAARC, Arjun Bahadur Thapa, ahead of the 8th meeting of the SAFTA Ministerial Council, which is scheduled to be held later this month in Thimphu, Bhutan. The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) has steadily progressed since its inception in 2006 and the available data shows that trade under SAFTA has now touched USD 3 billion cumulatively since it came into effect, Thapa said while addressing the "Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks" with the theme "Realising the Vision of South Asian Union" in Kathmandu today. All the member states have implemented the commitments under Phase II of Reduction of the Sensitive Lists and now they are holding discussion on Phase II which aims to further reduce the sensitive lists, he added. Thapa also underlined the need for stronger intra-regional physical connectivity since bulk of trade between the SAARC countries is happening through land border stations. SAARC today encompasses almost all the spheres of human activity for collaboration that are aimed at promoting the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improving their quality of life, as per the fundamental objective of SAARC, pointed out Thapa. The concept of regional economic integration implies that nations of a geographic region come together in some type of partnership to foster trade, investment and development, said Thapa. "Liberalisation of trade regulation for member countries and removal of trade barriers place on members are the two distinguished characteristics of a free trade area" he said. The SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) along with SAFTA and now the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) are the landmark framework agreements adopted by the regional grouping to promote the economic integration processes, he said. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is made up of eight member-nations - India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.