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Friday, April 23, 2010 03:19:29 PM, IANS
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New Delhi: In its silver jubilee year, the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will focus on climate change and sign two pacts on environment and trade at its 16th summit to be held in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu April 28-29.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will join other South Asian leaders Thimphu April 28. This is the first time that Bhutan is hosting a summit of SAARC countries that account for nearly one-fourth of the world’s population.
An idyllic Himalayan country known for measuring its wealth in terms of gross national happiness, Bhutan has chosen climate change as the summit theme which is expected to culminate in a joint declaration entitled “Towards a Green and Happy South Asia”.
A separate Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change will also be issued.
India has stressed on an urgent need for adaptive action to deal with consequences of climate change in South Asia that is widely seen as the world’s ecologically most diverse and yet one of the most fragile regions.
The SAARC countries will sign a convention on environment to boost exchange of best practices and knowledge, capacity building and transfer of eco-friendly technology in areas such as climate change, coastal zone management, wildlife conservation and environmental impact assessment studies.
With intra-SAARC trade touching $529 million, the eight countries have decided to sign an agreement on trade in services that is expected to accelerate regional collaboration in diverse areas like health, hospitality, communications, computer and information services and air transport.
The SAARC has come a long way since its inception in 1985, with establishment of a slew of institutions like the South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) in Dhaka, the SAARC Arbitration Council in Islamabad, the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) in Thimphu and the South Asian University (SAU) in New Delhi.
Afghanistan joined the grouping as its eighth member at the 14th summit in April 2007.
SAARC is taking on the role of service provider for the economic and development needs the region’s almost 1.5 billion people, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said ahead of the summit.
India will focus on improving regional connectivity through the development of new trade, transport and telecommunication links, Rao said days ahead of the summit.
New Delhi will also focus on the setting of common standards and harmonization of customs procedures; and enhancing people-to-people contacts, particularly among the youth, civil society, cultural personalities, academics and parliamentarians.
“We are confident that the forthcoming SAARC summit will provide ample opportunity for the SAARC member states to work together to chart a blueprint for regional development over the next few years,” Rao said.
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