The Council of Foreign Ministers concluded its meeting today, with a draft of the SAARC declaration to be sent for approval by Heads of State and Government on Friday.
The Ministers “reached a consensus” on the main agenda items, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said today.
Speaking to press at the Equatorial Convention Center (ECC) in Addu City, Naseem, who chaired the meeting, explained that the draft proposed by the Maldives was endorsed by the foreign ministers with some amendments while the format has been “completely changed” from previous summits.
“We have very swiftly concluded our deliberations at the foreign minister’s council,” he said. “We have reached consensus on all the main agenda items we deliberated on. There’s obviously certain issues that will be discussed by the heads of state.”
Among the decisions made today, said Naseem, the council agreed to inaugurate an ‘Indian Ocean Cargo and Passenger Ferry Service’ before the end of the year.
The council agreed to conduct feasibility studies and submit proposals in six months, he added.
On the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Naseem said the foreign ministers were in agreement that cross-border free trade and connectivity were “the most important issues for SAARC today.”
“The theme for SAARC this year is building bridges,” he said. “We believe that through these bridges we can improve the lot for the people in the SAARC region.”
Naseem observed that the implementation of the regional free trade agreement had been “delayed over the years,” adding that the council decided to “re-emphasize” the importance of implementation.
“Domestic issues” were an impediment to successful implementation, he suggested, and the Maldives as chair would be seeking consensus at the next foreign minister’s meeting due to take place in six months.
The foreign ministers also decided to hold next year’s SAARC Trade and Tourism Fairs in Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll, Naseem revealed, which is the largest population hub to the north of the capital Male’.
The council also deliberated “strengthening the administrative framework of SAARC” to improve its functions, he said, including granting “more powers to the SAARC secretariat.”
“As Maldives is the chair, we feel that without strengthening the secretariat, progress we make in SAARC will always be hampered by administrative difficulties,” he said, adding that studies would be undertaken to identify reforms.
Asked if China had proposed becoming a member of SAARC, Naseem said he did not “know if China has requested full membership.”