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The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and political organization of eight countries in Southern Asia. In terms of population, its sphere of influence is the largest of any regional organization: almost 1.5 billion people, the combined population of its member states. It was established on December 8, 1985 by Bangladeshmarker, Bhutanmarker, Maldivesmarker, Nepalmarker, Pakistanmarker, Indiamarker and Sri Lankamarker. In April 2007, at the Association's 14th summit, Afghanistanmarker became its eighth member.


In the late 1970s, Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman proposed the creation of a trade bloc consisting of South Asian countries.The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was again mooted in May 1980. The foreign secretaries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. The Committee of the Whole, which met in Colombo in August 1981, identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. New areas of cooperation were added in the following years.

The objectives of the Association as defined in the Charter are:
  • to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to improve their quality of life;
  • to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential;
  • to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;
  • to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another's problems;
  • to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields;
  • to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries;
  • to strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interest; and
  • to cooperate with international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes.

The Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation was adopted by the Foreign Ministers in 1983 in New Delhi. During the meeting, the Ministers also launched the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) in nine agreed areas, namely, Agriculture; Rural Development; Telecommunications; Meteorology; Health and Population Activities; Transport; Postal Services; Science and Technology; and Sports, Arts and Culture. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established when its Charter was formally adopted on 8 December 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of Bangladeshmarker, Bhutanmarker, Indiamarker, Maldivesmarker, Nepalmarker, Pakistanmarker and Sri Lankamarker.

Afghanistan was added to the regional grouping at the behest of India on 13 November 2005, and became a member on 3 April 2007. With the addition of Afghanistan, the total number of member states were raised to eight (8). In April 2006, the United States of Americamarker and South Koreamarker made formal requests to be granted observer status. The European Union has also indicated interest in being given observer status, and made a formal request for the same to the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in July 2006. On 2 August 2006 the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to the US, South Korea and the European Union. On 4 March 2007, Iranmarker requested observer status. Followed shortly by the entrance of Mauritius.


The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987 and was inaugurated by Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal.

It is headed by a Secretary General appointed by the Council of Ministers from Member Countries in alphabetical order for a three-year term. He is assisted by the Professional and the General Services Staff, and also an appropriate number of functional units called Divisions assigned to Directors on deputation from Member States. The Secretariat coordinates and monitors implementation of activities, prepares for and services meetings, and serves as a channel of communication between the Association and its Member States as well as other regional organizations.

The Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of the Secretariat which was signed by Foreign Ministers of member countries on 17 November 1986 at Bangalore, India contains various clauses concerning the role, structure and administration of the SAARC Secretariat as well as the powers of the Secretary-General.

In several recent meetings the heads of state or government of member states of SAARC have taken some important decisions and bold initiatives to strengthen the organisation and to widen and deepen regional co-operation.

The SAARC Secretariat and Member States observe 8 December as the SAARC Charter Day1..


SAARC's inability to play a crucial role in integrating South Asia is often credited to the political and military rivalry between India and Pakistan. Over the years, SAARC's role in South Asia has been greatly diminished and is now used as a mere platform for annual talks and meetings between its members.

Political issues

SAARC has intentionally laid more stress on "core issues" mentioned above rather than more decisive political issues like the Kashmir dispute and the Sri Lankan civil war. However, political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings. SAARC has also refrained itself from interfering in the internal matters of its member states. During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.

Free trade agreement

Over the years, the SAARC members have expressed their unwillingness on signing a free trade agreement. Though India has several trade pacts with Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, similar trade agreements with Pakistan and Bangladesh have been stalled due to political and economic concerns on both sides. India has been constructing a barrier across its borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan. In 1993, SAARC countries signed an agreement to gradually lower tariffs within the region, in Dhakamarker. Eleven years later, at the 12th SAARC Summit at Islamabadmarker, SAARC countries devised the South Asia Free Trade Agreement which created a framework for the establishment of a free trade area covering 1.4 billion people. This agreement went into force on January 1, 2006. Under this agreement, SAARC members will bring their duties down to 20 per cent by 2007.

Dhaka 2005 Summit

The summit accorded observer status to People's Republic of Chinamarker, Japanmarker, South Koreamarker and United States of Americamarker. The nations also agreed to organize development funds under a single financial institution with a permanent secretariat, that would cover all SAARC programs and also ranging from social, to infrastructure, to economic ones.


Current members (alphabetically)


Future membership

  • The People's Republic of Chinamarker has shown its interest in joining SAARC. While Pakistan and Bangladesh support China's candidature, India is more reluctant about the prospect of Chinese membership, while Bhutan does not even have diplomatic relations with China. However, during the 2005 Dhaka summit, India agreed on granting observer status to the PRC along with Japanmarker. During the 14th summit, Nepal along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, announced their support for the membership of China. China seeks greater involvement in SAARC, however, finds it too early to apply for full membership.
  • Indonesiamarker intends to become an observer as well, and is supported by Sri Lanka.
  • Iranmarker, a state with borders to two SAARC members, has traditionally enjoyed strong cultural, economic and political relationships with Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and has expressed its desire to become a member of the South Asian organization. On 22 February 2005, the Foreign Minister of Iranmarker, Kamal Kharrazi, indicated Iran's interest in joining SAARC by saying that his country could provide the region with "East-West connectivity". On 3 March 2007, Iran asked to join the SAARC as an observer. SAARC Secretary-General Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji responded by saying that Iran's request for observer status would be taken up during a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of SAARC member countries in the 3 April summit in New Delhi.
  • Russiamarker intends to become an observer as well, and is supported by India.
  • Myanmarmarker has expressed an interest in joining as a full member. If done so, Myanmar will become the ninth member in the group. India is currently backing Myanmar.Burma’s military regime officially applied for full SAARC membership in May 2008. However, the application is still being considered and the government is currently restricted to observer status.
  • South Africa has participated in meetings.

Secretaries General

Abul Ahsan January 16, 1987 to 15 October 1989 Kant Kishore Bhargava October 17, 1989 to December 31, 1991 Ibrahim Hussain Zaki January 1, 1992 to December 31, 1993 Yadav Kant Silwal January 1, 1994 to December 31, 1995 Naeem U. Hasan January 1, 1996 to December 31, 1998 Nihal Rodrigo January 1, 1999 to January 10, 2002 Q.A.M.A. Rahim January 11, 2002 to February 28, 2005 Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji March 1, 2005 to February 29, 2008 Sheel Kant Sharma March 1, 2008 to present

List of SAARC summits

1st Dhakamarker December 7-8 1985 2nd Bangaloremarker November 16-17 1986 3rd Kathmandumarker November 2-4 1987 4th Islamabadmarker December 29-31 1988 5th Malémarker November 21-23 1990 6th Colombomarker December 21, 1991 7th Dhakamarker April 10-11 1993 8th New Delhimarker May 2-4 1995
9th Malémarker May 12-14 1997 10th Colombomarker July 29-31 1998 11th Kathmandumarker January 4-6 2002 12th Islamabadmarker January 2-6 2004 13th Dhakamarker November 12-13 2005 14th New Delhimarker April 3-4 2007 15th Colombomarker August 1-3 2008 16th Male 17th Bhutanmarker Scheduled to held in 2010

SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement

The Agreement on SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) was signed on 11 April 1993 and entered into force on 7 December 1995, with the desire of the Member States of SAARC (Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker, Nepalmarker, Sri Lankamarker, Bangladeshmarker, Bhutanmarker and the Maldivesmarker) to promote and sustain mutual trade and economic cooperation within the SAARC region through the exchange of concessions.

The establishment of an Inter-Governmental Group (IGG) to formulate an agreement to establish a SAPTA by 1997 was approved in the Sixth Summit of SAARC held in Colombo in December 1991.

The basic principles underlying SAPTA are:
  1. overall reciprocity and mutuality of advantages so as to benefit equitably all Contracting States, taking into account their respective level of economic and industrial development, the pattern of their external trade, and trade and tariff policies and systems;
  2. negotiation of tariff reform step by step, improved and extended in successive stages through periodic reviews;
  3. recognition of the special needs of the Least Developed Contracting States and agreement on concrete preferential measures in their favour;
  4. inclusion of all products, manufactures and commodities in their raw, semi-processed and processed forms.

So far, four rounds of trade negotiations have been concluded under SAPTA covering over 5000 commodities.

South Asian Free Trade Area

The Agreement on the South Asian Free Trade Area is an agreement reached at the 12th SAARC summit at Islamabadmarker, capital of Pakistanmarker on 6 January 2004. It creates a framework for the creation of a free trade area covering 1.4 billion people in Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker, Nepalmarker, Sri Lankamarker, Bangladeshmarker, Bhutanmarker and the Maldivesmarker.The seven foreign ministers of the region signed a framework agreement on SAFTA with zero customs duty on the trade of practically all products in the region by end 2016. The new agreement i.e. SAFTA, came into being on 1 January 2006 and will be operational following the ratification of the agreement by the seven governments. SAFTA requires the developing countries in South Asia, that is, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to bring their duties down to 20 percent in the first phase of the two year period ending in 2007. In the final five year phase ending 2012, the 20 percent duty will be reduced to zero in a series of annual cuts. The least developed nations in South Asia consisting of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives have an additional three years to reduce tariffs to zero. Pakistan has signed but not ratified the treaty, though there is hope in India, that it will sometime in 2008.

See also


  1. "A Brief on SAARC." South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. No date.
  2. Charter of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Article 1.
  3. "Afghanistan to be new SAARC member." Times of India, 13 November 2005.
  4. Breffni O'Rourke. "South Asia: Afghanistan Joins World's Largest Regional Grouping." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 3 April 2007.
  5. Waliur Rahman. "US and S Korea to observe SAARC." BBC News, 11 April 2006.
  6. "SAARC to grant observer status to US, S Korea, EU." Hindustan Times. 2 August 2006.
  7. "Iran requests for observer status in SAARC." People's Daily, 5 March 2007.
  8. "Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the Secretariat." South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, 17 November 1986.
  13. Afghan and further Chinese membership prospects
  14. China's membership prospects
  18. China seeks bigger role in Saarc- Hindustan Times
  19. Sri Lanka News
  20. Iran's membership prospects
  24. Sri Lanka News | Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse Newspapers
  25. PTI - Press Trust of India
  26. Mizzima News - Specialising in Burma-Related News and Multimedia
  27. SAARC nations call for transparency in social sector - Thaindian News
  28. SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement

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