Continuation of SAARC ….
SAARC has established five regional centres. Each centre is managed by a Governing Board which includes the Director of the Centre. The Governing Board reports to the Standing Committee. The Regional Centres are as follows:
I. SAARC Agricultural Information Centre (SAIC)
The first regional institution was established in Dhaka in 1988. SAIC serves to network relevant National Information Centres in each Member State with a view to exchange regionally generated technical information particularly to strengthen agricultural research and development activities. SAIC has brought out several publications which contain information on agricultural institutions in SAARC countries and current services on fisheries, forestry, livestock and crops such as rice. SAIC also publishes a quarterly newsletter.
II. SAARC Tuberculosis Centre (STC)
The STC was set up in 1992 in Kathmandu. The main objective of STC is to work towards the prevention and control of TB in the region by coordinating the efforts of the National TB Programme of the Member States.
III. SAARC Documentation Centre (SDC):
The SDC was established at the Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre in New Delhi in May 1994. The SAARC Documentation System comprises the central facility i.e. SDC and its sub-units in Member States act as the Centre’s repositories with the SAARC Secretariat and SAARC Regional Institutions. In fulfilling the need for ready access to information, the SDC focuses on data in Member States and international databases in the areas of biological, physical, chemical, engineering, and life sciences as well as in development matters.
IV. SAARC Meteorological Research Centre (SMRC)
The SMRC in Dhaka was inaugurated on January 2, 1995. The Centre concentrates primarily on the research aspects of weather forecasting and monitoring. The research areas include weather prediction and compiling climatological information. In addition to monitoring weather phenomena, the Centre is also engaged in developing a networking system among the Member States. V. SAARC Human Resources Development Centre (SHRDC)
The SAARC Human Resources Development Centre (SHRDC) has been established in Islamabad with an objective to undertake research, training and dissemination of information on human resources development issues.
While the acceleration of economic growth is a Charter objective of SAARC, cooperation in core economic areas among SAARC Member Countries was initiated following the Study on Trade, Manufactures and Services (TMS), completed in June 1991.
➢ Committee on Economic Cooperation
A Committee on Economic Cooperation (CEC) was formed comprising Commerce/Trade Secretaries of the SAARC Member States. The CEC was mandated to formulate and oversee implementation of specific measures, policies and programmes within the SAARC framework to strengthen and enhance intra-regional cooperation in the field of trade and economic relations. With the creation of the CEC, regional economic cooperation was formally institutionalized as an integral component of the SAARC process.
➢ SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA)
The Tenth Summit in Colombo approved the formulation on an institutional framework for trade liberalisation in SAARC through SAPTA. In 1993, the framework agreement on SAPTA was finalized and signed at the Seventh Summit at Dhaka. It entered into force in 1993. The basic principles underlying SAPTA are:
a. Overall reciprocity and mutuality of advantages so as to benefit equitably all Contracting States taking into account their respective levels of economic and industrial development, the pattern of their external trade, trade and tariff policies and systems;
b. Negotiation of tariff reform step by step, improved and extended in successive stages through periodic reviews;
c. Recognition of the special needs of the Least Developed Contracting States and agreement on concrete preferential measures in their favour; and
d. Inclusion of all products, manufactures and commodities in their raw, semi-processed and processed forms.
➢ South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA)
The Tenth SAARC Summit in Colombo also decided on the setting up of a Committee of Experts which would draft a comprehensive treaty regime for creating a free trade area within the region. The Committee has been set up and a draft prepared by the Secretariat is under consideration. The process has benefited from inputs suggested by the South Asian corporate sector.
➢ Trade Facilitation Measures
Action has also been simultaneously initiated on a series of practical measures aimed at trade facilitation, such as consideration of a Regional Agreement on the Promotion and Protection of Investments in the SAARC Region, the setting up of a SAARC Arbitration Council, and the consideration of a Regional Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation. In 1996, a Group on Customs Cooperation was set-up and entrusted with a mandate inter-alia to harmonise customs rules and regulations; simplify documentation and procedural requirements; upgrade infrastructure facilities and provide training facilities. A Customs Action Plan has also been drawn up. Standing Group on Standards, Quality Control and Measurement was also established by the second meeting of SAARC Commerce Ministers in May 1998.
➢ Enhancement of Institutional Capacity
The Colombo Summit recognized the need to strengthen the individual financial systems of the SAARC countries through the enhancement of their institutional capacity, surveillance mechanisms, as well as through closer consultations on, and coordination of, macroeconomic policies where appropriate. In order to enhance SAARC’s collective capacity in respect of policy analysis with specific emphasis on international financial and monetary as well as trade and investment issues, meetings of finance officials of SAARC countries have been held, including regular consultations between Governors of Central Banks.
In addition, as mandated by the Colombo Summit, a Network of Researchers on Global, Financial and Economic Issues has been set up to identify, analyse and help SAARC face global, financial and economic developments affecting the region. The Network which brings together the views of the private sector, central banks, planning ministries, research institutes and eminent economists nominated by Governments is working on an immediate and long term research agenda which would help identify areas of common concerns, as well as new areas of cooperation among the Member Countries. The Network also brings out the South Asia Economic Journal in collaboration with Sage Publishers.
5.Social Sectors Development:
The Charter includes among the objectives of SAARC the acceleration of social progress and active collaboration and mutual assistance among Member States in the social field.
Thirteen meetings have been held of the Technical Committee on Women in Development since gender issues were included under the IPA in 1986. Activities have included pursuing a Regional Plan of Action for Women; publishing the SAARC Solidarity Journals on specific themes on women; highlighting the plight of the Girl Child in South Asia; and holding gender related workshops, seminars and training programmes. A Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) was signed on 30 December 2001.
Concerned at the trafficking of women and children within and between countries, Member Countries signed a Regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution on 5 January 2002 during the Eleventh Summit held in Kathmandu.
The development and well-being of children is a principal area of cooperation identified by SAARC from its very inception. The objective of building a region-wide consensus on social action for achieving the rights of the child and the goals set for them within the framework of a survival, development and protection strategy was addressed during three Ministerial Conferences on Children held in Delhi (1986), Colombo (1992) and Rawalpindi (1996) respectively In the areas of child development and health issues, SAARC has been closely cooperating with international agencies such as UNICEF with which it has signed an MOU in December 1993. The MOU envisages cooperation in implementing the relevant SAARC decisions relating to children through an annual agenda which includes joint studies, exchange of documentation and monitoring of implementation.
Health and population activities were one of the original five areas of cooperation identified by member states. The primary focus of the Technical Committee thus setup in 1984 was on maternal and child health, primary health care, disabled and handicapped persons, control and combating major diseases in the region such as malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, rabies and AIDS.
Important health issues have also been at the centre of SAARC social agenda. The SAARC member states have thus taken a number of initiatives to address several key issues relating to population control, serious problems in the area of health care and disease control. Discussion on health issues has highlighted the need for strengthening efforts to tackle problems posed by the resurgence of communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases and the emergence of AIDS as major health hazards. Stress has been laid on greater inter-country coordination and cooperation amongst the Member States to enable them to make a frontal attack on the communicable and non-communicable diseases afflicting the region.
Networking arrangements for training, research and eradication of malaria and a regional approach for combating major diseases in the region have been undertaken. A directory of training programmes in six priority areas, i.e. malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy diarrhoeal diseases, human rabies and maternal and child health have been prepared and subjects relating to health have been circulated among the Member States. Member States have also identified centres such as the National Institute of Malaria Training and Research, Lahore to act as focal points on the different diseases.
The SAARC Tuberculosis Centre, established in Katmandu in 1992, is playing an important role in the prevention and control of tuberculosis in the SAARC region by coordinating the efforts of the National TB Control Programmes of the Member Countries.
➢ The Social Charter
The Tenth Summit while reviewing the progress made in the Social Sector by SAARC determined that, in order to enhance social development, it would be necessary to develop, beyond national plans of action, a regional dimension of action including a specific role for SAARC. In this context, it directed that a Social Charter be developed for SAARC which would focus on drawing up targets with a broad range to be achieved across the region in the areas of poverty eradication, population stabilization, the empowerment of women, youth mobilization, human resources development, the promotion of health and nutrition and protection of children.
➢ Technical Committee on Social Development In line with the decision taken at the Twenty first Session of the Standing Committee, the Technical Committee on Social Development subsumes the work of two erstwhile Technical Committees respectively those on Health, Population Activities and Child Welfare and Women in Development. In addition, broader issues relating to drug de-addiction, rehabilitation of drug ad and demand reduction are also to be addressed by the Social Development Committee. The Committee held its first meeting in March 2002 in Kathmandu.
6. Poverty Alleviation and Development Activities:
Poverty eradication has been placed high on the social agenda of SAARC since the Sixth SAARC Summit (Colombo, 1991). The Summit accorded the highest priority to the alleviation of poverty in South Asia and decided to establish an Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA) consisting of eminent persons from Member States to conduct an in-depth study of the diverse experience of Member States and report their recommendations on the alleviation of poverty to the Seventh Summit.
The Seventh Summit welcomed the report and expressed its commitment to eradicate poverty from South Asia through an agenda of action which would, inter-alia, include a strategy of social mobilization, a policy of decentralized agricultural development village re-awakening and small scale labour intensive industrialization and human development.
The Summit also stressed that within the conceptual approach of “Dhal-Baat”, the right to work and primary education should receive priority.
The Eighth SAARC Summit (New Delhi, 1995) approved the establishment of a three-tier mechanism for dealing with poverty issues. The first tier would comprise the Secretaries to the Governments concerned with poverty eradication and social development in SAARC countries. The second tier w would comprise the Finance and Planning secretaries and the third tier would comprise Finance and Planning Ministers. The tenth SAARC Summit noted that human resources development is a key element in any poverty eradication programme. The Summit agreed that with the establishment of the SAARC Human Resources Development Centre in Islamabad, it could look into the possibility of its contributing to the strengthening of the human resources development component of regional poverty eradication programmes.
National Poverty Alleviation Programmes are being implemented in accordance with the specific domestic priorities and hence a single plan to fit the region has not been feasible. Nevertheless, UNDP as a response to the 1993 Dhaka Summit initiated the South Asian Poverty Alleviation Programme (SAPAP), which is now operational in six member countries. UNDP and SAARC cohered a meeting of South Asian Finance/Planning Ministers in Kathmandu in May 2001. The Ministerial level consultation was preceded by a three-day workshop on SAPAP achievements, challenges and future plans with participation by experts, practitioners and beneficiaries from the seven SAARC countries.