U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake recently attended the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, also known as SAARC. The association has eight member nations: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. The United States has been an observer at SAARC since 2007 due to the importance the United States attaches to its relations with each member country and to greater regional integration.
The United States has found that trade with neighboring countries makes good economic sense. That's why the U.S. fully embraces the objectives of the South Asian Free Trade Area or SAFTA, one of SAARC's most significant goals. A fully implemented SAFTA would provide a strong, stable, and transparent framework for investment and has the potential to foster greater trade and opportunity among SAARC members. SAARC states hope to implement a South Asia free trade agreement by 2016. At present, intraregional trade represents only 5 percent of total trade.
One of the barriers to regional integration has been the tensions for many years between India and Pakistan. That's why the recent progress between India and Pakistan, said Assistant Secretary Blake said, has been so important, not only to reduce tensions between those two countries, but also to enhance prospects for regional integration. The warming between India and Pakistan began at last year's SAARC summit. And this year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani reaffirmed that there is now a new chapter in their relations as a result of Pakistan's decision to grant most favored nation status to India.
The economic potential of a more open and integrated South Asia – home to over one-fifth of the world's population – is virtually unlimited. But in order for this potential to benefit the maximum number of people, it will be incumbent on governments to be transparent and accountable, to increase civic engagement, and harness new technologies in the pursuit of better governance.
The United States has further acknowledged the importance of SAARC by appointing U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Scott Delisi as the U.S. representative to the SAARC secretariat.
The United States is committed to working with SAARC and all the governments of South Asia to expand cooperation, prosperity, and opportunity in this vital region of the world.