New Delhi: Taking stock of the situation 25 years after inception of SAARC, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna on Thursday said there was a need to draw lessons from the past and maintained that the grouping was yet to attain its full potential, especially in trade.
"As we mark this 25th Anniversary of the organisation, we should take stock of the progress achieved in a sober and realistic manner and seek to draw lessons from the past.”
"At all times, we should bear in mind the original objective of SAARC to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life," Krishna said at the inaugural session of a two-day meet, jointly organised by Research and Information System for Developing Countries.
The conference is being attended among others by panellists from various regional countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"No one will deny that it (SAARC) has a long way to go and that its achievements do not match up with similar regional organisations elsewhere," RIS vice-chairman and former foreign secretary Shyam Saran said.
Talking about various initiatives taken by the grouping in the Summit in Thimphu in April, Secretary General Sheel Kant Sharma emphasised the need for more cooperation in many areas, including trade.
Sharma said South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) must be fully implemented by reducing the large number of sensitive lists.
Krishna said, "As per the SAARC Charter of 1985, a fundamental objective of SAARC is `to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life`. To achieve this objective a key strategy adopted has been to work towards enabling freer movement of goods and services."
However, there was considerably greater potential to increase the share of intra-regional trade and investment flows as has been witnessed in East and South East Asia, the minister said.
"It is time that the South Asian region takes adequate cognisance of the economies of the neighbourhood just as different regions across the world have adopted the strategy of regional economic integration to exploit the synergies for mutual benefit in a balanced and equitable manner," he said.