Dhaka will place special emphasis on cooperation in areas like connectivity improvement, poverty alleviation and antiterrorism during the upcoming eighteenth summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be held in Kathmandu, Nepal on November 26-27, Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said yesterday at the ministry.
The other areas of cooperation that Bangladesh will highlight are food security, youth development, climate change, science and technology, education, SAFTA and service sectors and women empowerment, he told a press conference organised to brief journalists about Bangladesh’s participation in the summit. “We will discuss progress and prospect, but the special emphasis will be given on the issues mentioned,” he added.
The minister informed the media that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will lead a 37-member Bangladesh delegation to the summit that will be participated by heads of state and government of all eight SAARC member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The active participation of the prime minister in the Summit is expected to strengthen cooperation among the member states in the areas of connectivity, trade, energy and security, he hoped.
Foreign Minister Ali also said that subject to the completion of internal formalities of the member states, three agreements are likely to be signed during the summit.
The deals are SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic amongst SAARC Member States, SAARC Regional Railways Agreement and SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity).
“We will stress the need for timely and proper implementation of the decisions taken by SAARC. Through this, we think it will be possible to turn SAARC into a proper organisation for the mass people in the region,” said the foreign minister.
“We want SAARC to play an active role in improving people’s lives. We also want the activities of this organisation to be more visible to the people of South Asia,” he said.
There is a huge potential market in the SAARC region where about 1.7 billion people live, Ali said, lamenting that this regional market has not expanded much compared to other regional associations like the ASEAN and EU.
About signing of the deals, he said that cooperation among the SAARC countries would be strengthened in terms of goods transportation, people to people contact, energy cooperation and trade relations if the deals are signed. “Bangladesh’s bilateral and multilateral relations with the SAARC will also be further enhanced once the deals are signed,” he added.
Mahmood Ali said it will be a big breakthrough if the motor vehicles agreement is signed.
Replying to a query, he said that SAARC has come a long way in bringing the people of South Asia closer to each other, but more could be done.
To another question, the minister said that it is yet to be finalised as to which leaders Prime Minister Hasina will meet on the sidelines of the summit.
“We’ll let you know if we hold meetings and if there is any further progress or outcome,” he said.
Asked if there will be a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Ali said, “I don’t know. We haven’t said anything (about the meeting).”
The summit will be preceded by the thirty-sixth session of the SAARC Council of Ministers on November 25 and 26, the forty-first session of the standing committee on November 23-24, and the forty-sixth session of the programming committee on November 22.
The summit of heads of state and government of the member states will be held at Rastriya Sabha Griha (The City Hall), Pradarshani Marg, Kathmandu on November 26-27.
The theme of the 18th SAARC summit is ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity’.