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South Asia to become ‘global leader’ in agri trade: SAARC VP

SAARC Vice President Iftikhar Ali Malik Wednesday said adopting a unanimous market-oriented agricultural policy could make South Asian region a world leader in agricultural trade in the decade to come besides that agricultural trade within the region will play an instrumental role in poverty alleviation.
According to a message received here from Colombo, Iftikhar Malik, representing Pakistan at the concluding session of 74TH General Assembly and 23rd Executive Committee of SAARC chamber held at Colombo, said that priority should be on identifying High-Value Crops (HVC) of various countries of the region. He said SAARC’s roots lay in Integrated Program of Action (IPA) Declaration adopted by the foreign ministers of South Asia in 1983 calling for regional cooperation in the areas of agriculture, health, rural development and population. Newly elected SAARC Chamber President from Sri Lanka Ruwan Edirisinghe chaired the session attended by all VPs and member of executive committee and general assembly.
Elucidating his vision on agricultural trade in the region, Iftikhar Malik said that agricultural sector is crucial in taking forward the region in the path of prosperity and in this regard South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) has very good provisions. “We need to implement these provisions for the benefit of people of this region, he added.
He furthermore said there is dire need of setting up ultra modern agriculture research centers across the region for the study and research on various crops for better yield. “ Now it wrong notion that farmers believe that whatever they are doing is the best. Now it is high time that we must need to education farmers on ways to boost productivity as cultivable land is shrinking with every passing year.
“The SAARC nations, at this stage, must not lose their focus on this front because they have the core competence in the sector and their economies are dominated by it. The greatest opportunity for SAARC is that India has one of the widest and best networks of agricultural education and research in the world. Other South Asian nations should take advantage of this,” he added.
In his thought provoking speech he said one fifth of the South Asian population is younger than 24 years. Therefore, the countries as well as SAARC should step up efforts to create adequate and suitable employment opportunities for the age group. However, Iftikhar Malik said we should do a lot to materialize the dream of making South Asia a world trade leader and poor connectivity is considered as a major drawback for expansion of agriculture business in the South Asian region while tariff and non-tariff barriers are also other obstacles in trade promotion. He said there is also a need of creating a mechanism for technology transfer within South Asia.
Another obstacle is a shortage of milestones that will lead to closer cooperation among the member countries. “The world is watching South Asia. It is time to walk the talk, but unless there is peace among the member countries, especially between the two big partners, India and Pakistan, SAARC shall remain an association where bilateral issues prevail over the much-desired common multilateral goals,” he added.
Iftikhar Malik further said amid the diversities, challenges faced by SAARC countries, such as poverty, unemployment, inflationary pressure, unfavourable trade balance, high budget deficits and climate change are common. “However, despite common problems, the policies adopted by the members are contradictory to one another. For the sake a unified purpose, they need to develop a uniform approach towards these problems,” adding he said as we have moved from Millennium Development Goals to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, greater cooperation among the SAARC countries will make the region stable, safe and prosperous.