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FLAG OF SAARC COUNTRIES

 

SAARC SUMMIT

 

SPEECH BY

Her Excellency

Begum Khaleda Zia

 

Prime Minister of the People�s Republic of Bangladesh

Kathmandu, Nepal,  4-6 January 2002


Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

(In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent and the Most Merciful)

   

Mr. Chairman,

Excellencies,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Assalamu Alaikum.

I am delighted to return to beautiful Kathmandu. This SAARC Summit has a special relevance. We seek to forge together a common vision for a new century. The serene majesty of the Himalayas serves, as always, to inspire and stimulate our creative impulses. I hope that within this special ambiance, the spirit of SAARC will be renewed and revitalized.

 

Mr. Chairman,

I warmly congratulate you on your assumption of the Chair. I am confident that under your able leadership SAARC will flourish as a force for the good of our peoples. I also extend my tributes to President Chandrika Kumaratunga for steering the course of SAARC so capably in such challenging times.

SAARC Summits represent both continuity and change. It is a time to welcome new faces and renew old ties. I extend warm greetings to President Pervez Musharraf and, in turn, thank all of you for so warmly welcoming me back into this regional fold.

Our Secretary General, Ambassador Nehal Rodrigo, has completed his tenure with distinction and dedication. He deserves our praise. I welcome his successor Ambassador Q.A.M.A. Rahim and wish him all success.

I also thank the government and the people of Nepal for their warm reception, gracious hospitality and for the wonderful arrangements made for this meeting.

 

Mr. Chairman,

SAARC has a special place in my heart. Its guiding motivation is rooted in the wisdom of its founder and chief architect, late President Ziaur Rahman. This was to improve the quality of life of the common people of South Asia in an environment of peach. SAARC�s strength lies in striving to achieve what is attainable, to advance cooperation wherever possible and to concentrate on what unites rather than what divides us. This vision remains as relevant today as it was when President Zia envisaged this forum.

 

Mr. Chairman,

In looking towards SAARC�s future directions, we must candidly evaluate its limitations and strengths. SAARC has become a bystander, and not a catalytic agent of change. Five constraints are flagged in passing.

  • SAARC is yet to formulate, let alone implement, a single regional project.

  • National self-assertion still impedes regional cooperation.

  • SAARC has made no dent in alleviating poverty.

  • International developments impinge little on SAARC�s progress SAARC does not work closely with similar organizations.

  • Decision-making in SAARC is slow.  

Mr. Chairman,

The above list of shortcomings is meant for remedial action and not as a measure of despair. Indeed, our achievements cannot either be discounted.

  • SAARC has attained a structured, institutional shape. We have, to some extent, closed the critical information and communication gaps separating us. People to people contact has grown and produced a real sense of South Asian identity.

  • More substantively, our cooperation through the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) has created a web of interaction in new and imaginative ways.

  • Instruments such as Independent Commissions, Task Forces and Groups of Eminent Persons have proved useful, cost-efficient ways to concentrate on key issues of importance to SAARC. Pioneering studies have been carried out on poverty alleviation, disaster management, environment, trade, manufactures and services.

  • SAARC leaders have devised mechanisms such as annual meetings of Finance, Planning and Commerce Ministers in order to engage in dialogues on macro-economic policies and to share experiences and ideas.

  • SAARC has moved considerably forward in signing various Conventions, Treaties and Agreements including those on drugs, terrorism and preferential trading. Several proposals are underway for new instruments or additions in all these areas.

  • Meanwhile, SAARC has taken several initiatives, for example, consolidating the common position of member-states in various international fora; strengthening linkages among professional groups; liberalizing the intra-regional movement of people, establishing long-range focus on children through such measures as the Decade for the Girl Child (the 1990s) and Decade for the Rights of the Child (The first decade of the new century).  

 

Mr. Chairman,

The bottom line in summing up SAARC�s achievements consists of three factors :  

  • To consolidate our past gains.

  • To move firmly towards the implementation of SAARC initiatives, keeping in mind the need for a regional focus and orientation.

  • To find the resolve to take new decisions.

Mr. Chairman,

The shortcomings and successes outlined above allow us to focus on certain fundamental priorities.

 

Poverty Alleviation :

Our main goal is to reduce poverty. SAARC�s pledge to eradicate poverty by the year 2002 is unlikely. However, the agenda remains valid. Underpinning it are certain key perceptions-that poverty reduction is the center-piece of development; that the poor are efficient and that though economic growth is essential to reduce poverty, the pattern of growth is as important as its rate.

Strategies moulded by these perceptions assume three major dimensions - social mobilization, decentralization and most important of all, human resources development. I call this as the �Dal Bhaat� approach. This is to ensure food security, basic education especially for girls, primary health care, safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter, voluntary family planning and the protection of women and children.

In implementing this agenda, SAARC must pool together information and data and share its rich experience. This is especially so in the transfer of labour intensive technology, grass-roots participation in self-employment schemes, micro-credit programmes, local development and empowerment of the poor. Attention must also be focused on urban poverty in view of the rapid unbanisation in South Asia in recent years. Finally, as part of poverty alleviation, special emphasis should be laid on ensuring the rights of women and children.

 

Trade Liberalization :

Reducing poverty needs a high growth rate. SAARC�s success will depend on how we cooperate in core economic areas of trade and investment. Negotiations for tariff reduction under the SAPTA have taught us some valuable lessons. We are now aware how inadequate they are, if we exclude commodities of interest to all countries and if tariff concessions do not extend to actively traded commodities. Trade promotion calls for dismantling of non-tariff barriers. It must also reduce value added requirements under the rules of origin. Failure to redress these impediments will affect the creation of region-wide trading space.

 

Bangladesh remains committed to encourage SAARC trade. However, we also equally believe that all future SAARC trade initiatives should reduce assymetry in trade exchanges and bilateral trade imbalances. This calls for decisive steps to encourage trade where opportunities already exist especially to promote trade creating investments and other facilitating measures. This includes greater interaction among our business people and investors and cooperation among financial institutions.

 

Globalization :

The third priority is dealing with globalization. Globalization has profound implications, both positive and negative. Globalization entails greater mobility of capital, labour and technology that transcends national frontiers. The benefits are obvious-faster growth, better living standards and new opportunities. However, the downside is that the benefits are unequally distributed and ignore social objectives. They also involve dangers of drugs, terrorism, pollution, diseases and arms and movements of people that invade all societies and respect no border. Therefore, our effort should be directed towards an inclusive globalization from below which will benefit common people through new ideas, opportunities and technologies.

 

Sustainable Development :

A fourth critical priority remains that of sustainable development. We cannot continue to squander and pollute our non-renewable resources without affecting future generations. We are rapidly approaching the threshold of irreversible depletion. Implementation of important recommendations of the two SAARC studies on environment and SAARC Plan of Action on Environment adopted by the meeting of SAARC Environment Ministers in Male must, therefore, be given due priority.

 

Mr. Chairman,

In view of the issues and challenges raised above, I would like to propose the following specific eight-point agenda:

  1. To utilize new ideas and techniques generated by information technology.
  2. To implement studies by South Asian think-tanks leading to concrete action.
  3. To activate the SADF with a minimum capital of US $500 million to finance development related activities in the least developed areas of South Asia.
  4. To implement the Plan of Action of the Male Environment Ministers Meeting and recommendations of the two SAARC studies on environment.
  5. To implement the SAARC agenda on poverty eradication without any further loss of time.
  6. To strengthen individually and collectively, social issues which economic growth might by-pass, especially relating to women and children.
  7. To encourage greater involvement of non-state actors.
  8. To adopt a Regional Investment Agreement.

In conclusion, I would like to say, Mr. Chairman, that the impact of 11 September 2001 has effectively demonstrated that no country can live in isolation. Our world, for good or for bad, is interdependent. We must act decisively to make SAARC a true vehicle for peace, progress and stability in our region. In the final analysis the real security for all of us lies in promoting sustainable growth, reform and development. This is what SAARC really stands for.

 

Allah Hafez, Bangladesh Zindabad

Long live SAARC

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