The 17th SAARC Summit concluded today with the signing of the ‘Addu Declaration’, containing a number of key agreements affecting the region.
One of the most significant for the Maldives was a commitment to ensure that final preparations for an Indian Ocean passenger and cargo ferry service were completed by the end of December.
In a press conference following the closing ceremony, SAARC Chairman President Mohamed Nasheed pointed out that this development would allow someone to cheaply travel from Kulhudhuffushi in the country’s north to Colombo or Kochi in as much time as it would take them to reach Male’.
Other agreements included the strengthing of the SAARC Secretariat, the establishment of a South Asian Postal Union, and intensification of efforts to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade and reduce the sensitive list.
During the Summit, India had announced its intention to reduce its sensitive list for Least Development Countries (LDCs) from 480 tariff lines to 25, with zero customs duty for those items removed.
An unexpected commitment was an agreement in principle that SAARC countries would spend an “appropriate proportion” of their national income on renewable energy technologies.
The percentage would be determined by energy authorities and finance ministers in each country, but Nasheed said that if investment reached even one percent it would create the world’s largest market for renewable energy technology overnight.
No agreement was reached regarding the possibility of installing a human rights mechanism in SAARC, however Nasheed said the matter had come up as dear to several SAARC leaders, who had spent time in jail and faced torture over their politics.
“I don’t think they will stop talking about human rights,” he said.
The Heads of State also agreed further measures to combat maritime piracy in the region.
“When the next season of pirates drift into the Maldives, we must be able to deal with them,” he said.
“It is not a matter of stopping them, but what we do with them after we capture them,” he said, noting that the Maldives currently had 37 in custody.
“They have no ammunition on board by the time they reach the Maldives, and no passport or identification papers, so we can only treat such a person as a refugee adrift.”
During the closing ceremony observers from eight countries made statements in support of SAARC, reaffirming various commitments in the region.
The Australian representative observed that Australia was united with South Asia not just through sharing the Indian Ocean, but through a shared love and appreciation of cricket – 80 percent of the market for which was based in South Asia.
Australia pledged an additional AUD$20 million over two years, extending its support for infrastructure development to AUD$40 million over six years, and announced 297 scholarships to South Asian countries in 2012.
China meanwhile announced an additional donation of US$300,000 to the SAARC Development Fund.
The European Union welcomed steps taken at SAARC to move beyond trade to also cover political issues, such as counter terrorism.
The former “complexity” of SAARC had compelled the EU in one instance to decommit funds allocated for developing standards, the representative noted, but highlighted a €6.5 million commitment in civil aviation cooperation.
Iran noted its shared linguistic heritage with South Asian countries and raised the possibility of tourism cooperation.
Japan meanwhile thanked the Maldives for its contribution of 69,000 tins of tuna following the earthquake in March, and pledged broad support around the region. Particular emphasis, the representative said, included stability in Afghanistan, democracy in Pakistan, peace and security in Nepal, disaster preparedness in Bangladesh, and democracy consolidation in Bhutan and the Maldives.
The representative from the Republic of Korea noted that it was only in the last 50 years that Korea had transformed itself from a recipient of donor aid to an OECD country, and announced that the country intended to triple its overseas development commitment by 2015.
The representative from Myanmar/Burma announced his country’s desire to promote trade with SAARC countries, given its proximity.
The country was in the process of transitioning from a military government to a democracy, he claimed, appealing for the “understanding and support of the international community.”
The United States representative reiterated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ambition to help establish “a new silk road” in South Asia, which would in turn address insecurity and extremism plaguing the region.
The US was very encouraged by the bilateral talks and trade agreements negotiated between India and Pakistan during the SAARC Summit.
At the same time, the US urged the need for greater transparency and accountability of government “in the pursuit of better government.”
Parallel ‘People’s SAARC’
The parallel ‘People’s SAARC’, a collective of South Asian civil society organisations, meanwhile observed that the Summit was taking place “at a time when South Asian states are beginning to look inwards to realize the region’s immense political, economic, and diplomatic potential.”
“While the agenda of economic and social development might have moved up as a priority item for the SAARC countries, South Asian states continue to veer towards their aspirations for superior military might, prompting them to divert resources from developmental goals.”
The parallel SAARC urged leaders to close the income gap by dropping “wasteful” expenditure of further militarisation, institute a regional human rights mechanism protecting the rights of migrant workers, and create and independent climate commission.
“We would also like to see the establishment of a regional monitoring body with a mandate to assess the compliance of the member states in installing, safeguarding and institutionalising democratic governance.”
“SAARC should encourage member states to adopt competent and credible constitutional, legal and administrative framework to end all forms of discrimination, displacement, deprivation and the deeply rooted culture of impunity to secure a better future for the billions on inhabitants of the region,” the statement read.