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India proposes to double SAARC business visa

India Thursday proposed to more than double SAARC sticker business visa to 500, with a view to enhance economic engagements among the South Asian countries.

Addressing the inaugural session of the fifth SAARC Business Leaders Conference here, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said India supports any proposal of easing regional visa regulations.

"There should be more SAARC business visa. I will support enhancement of SAARC business visas to 500," Sharma said.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries currently issue 200 business visas.

Sharma also emphasised on the need for activating and concluding the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) as growth in manufacturing will necessarily give rise to a greater demand for services.

"We need to learn from the positive spin-offs that have come from regional economic agreements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the economic integration demonstrated by the European Union," he said.

The minister called for the establishment of linkages amongst the financial institutions of the SAARC nations.

"We support the industry's demand for opening of Indian banks in each SAARC country," he said.

Addressing the event, SAARC Secretary General Ahmed Saleem, said while cooperation in diverse areas had grown significantly over the years, it was not up to the potential as most goods in South Asia are still procured from outside the SAARC region.

Saleem said SAARC countries were close to finalising an intra-SAARC investment agreement and that substantive progress had been made under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement.

Member nations were close to reducing the sensitive list of import items and the process of dismantling non-tariff barriers to trade was on, he said.

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry president Sidharth Birla said: "As we move forward, the real test for SAARC will be to benefit from globalisation and deeper regional integration, eventually creating a South Asian Economic Union."

He said, "To achieve this goal, a shift from independence to interdependence is needed."

SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Vikramjit Singh Sahney said that over the last decade, South Asia had emerged as one of the fastest growing regions in the world with an average growth rate of around 7.5 per cent.

From 2001, intra-regional trade within South Asia grew at an average annual rate of an astounding 43 percent.