Economic Times, India
Pawar urges SAARC countries to strengthen SAFTA
5 March 2008
PTI/NEW DELHI: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday urged the SAARC countries to strengthen the regional trade and pointed out that the region does not correspond to the so-called natural trading partner hypothesis and "SAFTA’s economic relevance is being questioned".
Pawar also asked the South Asian countries to give a big push to farm and realise high growth rate, while noting that a slew of factors have led to a laggard expansion in this sector in the region.
"As regards regional trade, South Asia is the least integrated when measured as a share of GDP," Pawar said at the first SAARC Conference on ’Science-based Agricultural Transformation Towards Alleviation of Hunger and Poverty’.
Pointing out that the intra-regional trade in South Asia is only 0.8 per cent of GDP, a fraction of East Asia’s nearly 27 per cent of GDP, Pawar said. The region does not correspond to the so-called ’natural trading partner’ hypothesis and "SAFTA’s economic relevance is being questioned".
Pawar, however, noted that the bilateral trade is still significantly large and rising in smaller countries, but said "we need to not only encourage this but should try to strengthen SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) also"
On agriculture front, he said that about 60 per cent of South Asian people are still dependent on agriculture. He said the growth rate of farm sector in the region has remained slow because of inadequate investment, rural infrastructure and research and development, inadequate diversification to high value crops.
Outlining the challenges for agriculture in the region, Pawar said the non-availability of quality and cost effective inputs, low efficiency of use of inputs and fast deteriorating soil health and water resources are the critical concerns.