Monday, November 14, 2011

President Mohamed Nasheed Highlights the fruitful Results of the 17th SAARC Summit

President Mohamed Nasheed has highlighted the many fruitful results of the 17th SAARC summit, while delivering the closing address at the concluding session of the summit.

Speaking on the trade, transport and economic development issues discussed at the two-day summit, President Nasheed announced SAARC’s decision to reduce the sensitive list of Least Developed Countries from 480 tariff lines to 25. He also said that the Heads of State and Heads of Government have agreed to finalize the Regional Railways Agreement and to convene the Expert Group Meeting on Motor Vehicles Agreement, before the next Council of Ministers.

Reflecting on the Security issues deliberated on at the summit, President Nasheed informed of the agreement on the Rapid Response to Natural Disasters and the decision to initiate work on combating maritime piracy in the region. He further said that all countries have agreed to spend an appropriate proportion of their national income on renewable energy technologies.

The President also highlighted the good governance issue on the table at the summit, “We have agreed to convene an expert group meeting to discuss a regional mechanism for empowerment of women and promote gender equality in the region. And we have agreed to strengthen the mechanisms of SAARC itself, including the Secretariat and Regional Centres.”

At the concluding session of the 17th SAARC Summit, held from the 10th of November to the 11th in Addu City, SAARC leaders adopted the Declaration of the Seventeenth SAARC Summit as the “Addu Declaration”. It was also announced that the Eighteenth SAARC Summit will be held in Nepal.
Following the conclusion of the Summit, President Mohamed Nasheed met with the press in his capacity as the Chairperson of the Summit, and briefed the media on the important decisions taken during the course of the Summit.


Biweekly ferry service to Male soon

India will soon launch a cargo-cum-passenger ferry service between Kochi and Male, the capital of Maldives, giving an impetus to Kochi-based exporters to open up new business ventures.
The shipping ministry has plans to operate two biweekly services in this sector and it is expected to start operations within a few weeks.

"Cochin Port will soon invite private operators interested in operating the service," said K Mohandas, secretary, Shipping Ministry of India. Last July, a delegation led by Mohandas and Mohamed Latheef, permanent secretary, ministry of transport and communication of Maldives, agreed to operate ferry service between Kochi and Male. Later, at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, which concluded in Maldives on Friday, both the governments took the decision to complete the preliminary work for the service by the end of this year.

"Initially we will operate a cargo ferry service, similar to the one between Colombo and Tuticorin, from Kochi port to Maldives," a senior official at Cochin Port Trust (CPT) revealed.

"Currently a relatively smaller ferry is operating between Tuticorin and Male through the shallow waters of the Palk Strait. It transports vegetables and groceries from Tamil Nadu. The new service is expected to improve the trade between India and Maldives, and groceries from south Tamil Nadu could be sent to Maldives markets on relatively bigger ferry from Kochi," the official explained, adding: "Using a larger vessel would also bring down the cost of transportation."

"Maldives now imports goods, including light engineering merchandises and automobiles worth $1 billion per annum, mainly from Dubai and Singapore. The new ferry service from Kochi would help India develop a new market for our engineering products like motors in Maldives, and we expect this trade of value-added products to increase gradually in the coming years," the port official said.
CPT is now preparing for the launch of the ferry service by getting the berth and terminal for passengers and cargo ready. This month, a team of senior port officials from Maldives is expected to visit Kochi to discuss the arrangements to be made at their end to facilitate the ferry service.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

17th SAARC summit kicks off in Maldives

The 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit kicked off here on Thursday with the theme of "Building Bridges - both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue".

At the opening speech, 16th SAARC Chairman and Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley said, "I am deeply honored to open the 17th session in the pristine island of Addu. Holding the summit south of the equator is truly a reminder of the vastness of our region and its diversity," said Thinley.

Photo taken on Nov. 10, 2011 shows the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Addu City of Maldives. The 17th SAARC Summit kicked off here on Thursday with the theme of "Building Bridges -- both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue".

He remarked that Bhutan's chairmanship was a successful one with key developments on food security, renewable energy and establishment of the SAARC campus. He also thanked the South Asian governments for the assistance given to him during his tenure.

This was followed by the inaugural address that was made by Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed said, "I believe that the 21st Century will be Asia's century. I believe that Asia, and South Asia in particular, is becoming more powerful and more prominent than any other time in our history. In short, I believe the future is ours to shape. Our economies are booming. Our political influence is growing. And our ability to shape the course of world affairs has never been stronger."

"Our populations are youthful and energetic. Our thinkers, researchers and scientists are globally renowned. Our culture is internationally acclaimed. Our private sector companies are some of the world's largest and most profitable. For too long, South Asia was considered a sideshow in the theater of global politics. But today, we occupy center stage. The eyes of the world are upon us. This is our time to shine," said Nasheed.

The SAARC region has great wealth, he said, adding that it is possible for the people to have a decent life. He insisted that they want to live in societies of law and order so that they can have a decent life. Growing economies and deepening democracies and ensuring stability is the possibility of south Asia.

"For this we must work together. Economic stagnation in one member nation causes insecurity in another. We must integrate economically and create a political environment that creates security. There are many reasons to be positive Afghanistan remains stable and as a region we must assist them," he said.

President Nasheed said that key aspects, among others, trade and transport connection, economic integration climate change, disaster management, will be the top agenda in the summit.

Nasheed said, "The theme of this summit is building bridges. I hope one of the things we can achieve, at this and future summits is greater integration and co-operation between SAARC countries.

The Republic of Maldives declared "Building Bridges" as the theme for the 17th SAARC Summit.

"Building Bridges - both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue. However, the notion of bridging differences would be represented as the overarching theme of the summit rather than any set diplomatic or development aims," a statement issued by the Maldivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

President Nasheed said, "Today, the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers met in the lovely setting of the Shangri La in the Maldives. These developments are extremely welcome. I hope all political parties in India and Pakistan applaud these encouraging moves. I hope this summit will be enthused with optimism. And I hope both countries can work to resolve their core issues."

Earlier in the day, Indian and Pakistan prime ministers met for talks in what seems to be one of the focal points of the summit. Increasing warmth of relations were observed during the talks between the two parties with hopes for a "new chapter" opening during the next round of talks.

At the opening ceremony of the Summit, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for all SAARC countries to work together to eliminate terrorism.

"Terrorism presents an enormous challenge to the people and SAARC needs to work together to eliminate this menace," he said. SAARC can also work together to promote culture and arts that can be used to promote tourism in the region. He welcomed a consideration to establish dialogue with partners to promote the travel industry.

Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to promote fair trade in the region. He spoke positively of the progress made in SAARC, terming it as "impressive" and pointed out that many sectors including trade, transport, health and education have benefited from it.

"Our summit is taking place at a time when the West is having an economic crisis. In the meantime developing countries like ours will be squeezed for capital and markets and we should look for innovative solutions within South Asian region," he said.

Development within countries would attract foreign investors and freeing of trade between SAARC members would create benefit for all nations.

South Asia has been able to maintain a respectable growth rate and this encouraging trend has resulted in the integration of SAARC and shows the region is on the right path, Singh said.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address focused on the need to create solutions for the youth of South Asia.

He expressed confidence that the SAARC summit would result in more agreements that will promote trade. Belief in the people is the greatest strength for this region, he opined, urging all members to develop their potential.
The SAARC is an organization of South Asian nations, founded in December 1985 and dedicated to economic, technological, social, and cultural development emphasizing collective self-reliance. Its seven founding members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined the organization in 2007. Meetings of heads of state are usually scheduled annually; meetings of foreign secretaries, twice annually. It is headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal.


Pakistan, Maldives to expand trade, economic relations

Pakistan and Maldives on Wednesday agreed to expand their bilateral relations especially in trade, communication and manpower training. It was agreed when Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani held a meeting with President of Maldives Mohammad Nasheed here at the beautiful resort on the sidelines of 17th SAARC Summit. Members of the delegation of Pakistan including Interior Minister A. Rehman Malik, Minister for Communication Dr Arbab Alamgir and Minister for Shipping and Port Babar Ghauri were also present in the meeting.

Prime Minister Gilani appreciated the arrangements being made by Maldives for organizing the 17th SAARC summit and thanked for the hospitality given to the members of the Pakistan delegation.

The Prime Minister told the President of Maldives that he will discuss all issues with his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh including Kashmir when he will meet him tomorrow on the sidelines of SAARC summit.

He said improvement of relations between Pakistan and India are important and SAARC could be made more effective and result oriented with the better Pak-India relations.

The Prime Minister said there had been meetings between the Foreign Ministers, Interior Ministers, Commerce Ministers of Pakistan and India to improve relations in these fields and now Commerce Secretaries of the two countries will meet this month to improve trade and economic activities.

Talking about the theme of the summit - Build Bridges, the Prime Minister said connectivity is the most important thing and he emphasised the need to improve it.

Prime Minister Gilani appreciated the role of President Maldives in the recently held Commonwealth Summit in Australia where President Mohammad Nasheed was very vocal, articulate and convincing.

The Maldivian President told the Prime Minister Gilani that Islam came to Maldives through Pakistan during 1147 AD adding “Our region, concept and vision are common”.

He said connectivity can play vital role in improving the economic and trade activities, therefore special emphasis should be given on this sector.

The President of Maldives said once PIA had regular flights to Maldives which should be resumed for improving connectivity.

He told the Prime Minister that there is vast scope for import of vegetable, fruit and other products from Pakistan.

The President of Maldives told Prime Minister Gilani that he had the vision to steer out of a situation and seize the opportunity for improving the bilateral relations with India. He also congratulated Pakistan for being elected member of the Security Council.

He told the Prime Minister that Pakistan’s mangoes are very delicious and he had been receiving these mangoes when he was in jail and hoped that these mangoes will keep coming to Maldives.

The Prime Minister told him that he would send him Pakistani mangoes.


Pakistan, India herald new era of dialogue

India and Pakistan hailed progress in diplomatic ties on Thursday, promising to open a "new chapter" in their fraught relationship at a next round of formal peace talks.

Lasting peace between the nuclear-armed rivals is seen as essential to South Asian stability and to helping a troubled transition in Afghanistan as NATO-led combat forces plan their military withdrawal from that country in 2014.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani held nearly an hour-long discussion at a resort island in the Maldives, punctuating a recent thaw between the two.

That includes Pakistan's decision to grant its giant neighbor favorable trade terms and end huge restrictions that require most products to move via a third country.

"The next round of talks will be more positive, more constructive and will open a new chapter in the history of both countries," Gilani told reporters after the meeting with Singh on the sidelines of a summit of South Asian leaders.

"I can only assure you that I discussed all core issues."

India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, resumed a peace dialogue in February that was derailed after an attack by Pakistan-based militants in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

"We will resume this dialogue with the expectation that all issues which have bedeviled relations between the two countries will be discussed," Singh said. "The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of the relationship of the two countries."

Progress has been slow but Gilani and Singh have put a personal face to the discussions.

"I have always regarded Prime Minister Gilani as a man of peace. Every time we have met, we have held very extensive discussions of relations of the two countries. These have yielded some positive results, but more needs to be done," Singh said.


The two leaders, who last met in March at an international cricket match in India, discussed border disputes, sharing of common river water, Kashmir, militancy and trade, Gilani said.

Pakistan last week said it would grant India most-favored nation trade status. India gave the status to Pakistan 15 years ago, and the state of trade has closely been linked to the political temperature between the two.

"The process of trade normalization will be taken to its logical conclusion and we would also move toward a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan... and a liberalized visa regime," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters, referring to visas for business people.

There was no immediate announcement on the date or location of the next round of talks. Asked when they would resume, Gilani gestured toward the room where he and Singh had spoken and said: "Just now" to a burst of laughter.

A judicial panel from Pakistan is due in India shortly to investigate the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including speaking with the lone surviving gunman, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

An Indian court convicted Kasab, a Pakistani national, of murder and other charges, and he is appealing a death sentence.

"He is a terrorist. He is a non-state actor. He should go to the gallows," Malik told reporters.

India has demanded Pakistan investigate and convict the militants on its soil responsible for the assault on the Indian commercial capital.

So far, Pakistani authorities have put seven members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group on trial but India says Pakistan needs to do more.

The leaders are in the Maldives for a summit of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which also includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the host country, an archipelago of nearly 1,200 mostly uninhabited atolls in the Indian Ocean.


Leaders arrive in Maldives with diverse agendas

For India it’s mainly trade liberalisation, for Afghanistan the security situation, for Pakistan both trade and anti-terrorism fight, whereas for Maldives and Bangladesh the rising sea level tops the agenda their heads of states will be pursuing during the two-day 17th meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) commencing here on Thursday afternoon.

Sri Lanka is looking for increased cooperation between members to catch up with them after winning a war against Tamil Tigers that has bled the country for decades. However, Bhutan and Nepal, the two relatively smaller members of Saarc, once again will be analysing how they can benefit from the forum which even after 26 years since its inception has failed to kick-start what to talk about serving over 1.5 billion people of the region.

Saarc came into being in Dec 1985 with the aim to promote welfare of the people of South Asia and improve their quality of life. According to analysts, the South Asian leaders have miserably failed on their collective responsibility. The intra-regional trade, another basic objective behind the creation of Saarc, is less than five per cent. Initially, it had seven member states but Afghanistan joined the bloc in April 2007.

Maybe it’s the diversity of agendas which every member state has been following over the years which has compelled the organisers to select ‘building bridges’ as the theme for this year’s Saarc summit.

“Building bridges — both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue, however, the notion of bridging differences would be represented as the overarching theme of the summit rather than any set diplomatic aims,” a press release issued by the Maldivian foreign ministry said.

As in the past, there is every likelihood of a meeting between the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers on the sidelines of the summit, expected on Thursday, to overshadow the rest of the proceedings.

Unresolved differences between the two countries are considered a major stumbling block in making Saarc an effective regional organisation like other such bodies in other parts of the world.

Therefore, warming of ties between Pakistan and India is a must to have an operational Saarc. Otherwise it would remain a mere talk shop.

According to Pakistani delegates, barring any exceptions, the meeting between the two leaders is there on the agenda prior to the formal opening of the summit.

The two leaders are expected to thrash out differences over Pakistan’s reluctance to give the most favoured nation (MFN) status to India. India had given MFN status to Pakistan in 1996 and has been looking for reciprocity from Pakistan.

Only recently, when Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan misreported a federal cabinet decision that the government had decided to grant the status to India, it set off such an uproar in the country that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had to

make a clarification. He said during a media interaction that the government had only allowed the commerce ministry to start negotiations with its Indian counterpart to normalise trade relations.

“Definitely, issues regarding Indian presence in Afghanistan will also be taken up during the meeting between the prime ministers,” a Pakistani official said. He said Pakistan was not against increasing collaboration between India and Afghanistan.

However, being an immediate neighbour and main victim of the American war on terror, the country needed to be consulted.

A recent defence agreement between India and Afghanistan has raised many eyebrows in Pakistan.

India expects to move forward on the liberalisation of trade under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and will work to promote greater integration and development of a South Asian identity at the summit, Indian media quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as saying before his departure to Addu city.

Mr Singh also expressed hopes that the Saarc countries would sign agreements on implementation of regional standards, a multilateral arrangement on recognition of conformity assessment, rapid response to natural disasters and establishment of a Saarc seed bank during the summit.

APP adds: Prime Minister Gilani said on Wednesday before leaving for the Maldives that the importance and effectiveness of Saarc had increased manifold since Pakistan and India resumed discussing bilateral disputes.

He said the association had earlier been losing its effectiveness and could not move forward because of tense relations between the two major countries of South Asia.

“We will definitely focus on the conference’s theme of ‘building bridges’ by discussing all possible ways and means for mutual cooperation through rail, road and sea routes.”

In the Maldives, the prime minister was received at the Gan airport by President Mohammad Nasheed.