Our Bureau

New Delhi, Feb. 2

THE 13th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) has been put off indefinitely with India deciding not to attend the meeting scheduled for February 6 and 7 at Dhaka.

The decision by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, not to travel to Bangladesh has been taken against the backdrop of deteriorating law and order situation in that country and other developments in the neighbourhood, especially the dismissal of the Government in Nepal and declaration of emergency there.

This is the second postponement of the SAARC summit this year. The original meeting on January 9 and 10 was put off in the wake of the tsunami disaster that struck the South Asian region on December 26 and now India has decided against participating in the rescheduled summit.

Fresh dates will now be worked out by Bangladesh in consultation with the other SAARC members. The SAARC charter requires the presence of all the heads of State or government of the member countries for a summit to go ahead.

The indefinite delay in the summit meeting could have an impact on the launch of the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), scheduled for January 1, 2006. The Dhaka summit was expected to see the finalisation of at least two agreements facilitating SAFTA one on mutual administration assistance in customs matters and another on avoidance of double taxation among the member countries.

Two other important agreements, on bilateral investment protection and establishment of an arbitration council for trade-related issues, are also near finalisation.

Though SAARC members were quick to work out the dates for the February summit after the tsunami disaster, a revised schedule could now take time.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 3, 2005)
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