SAARC Agreement for Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA)

It lays down principles and procedures for conduct of negotiations and for implementation of the results of the negotiations. The coverage of SAPTA extends to arrangements in the area of tariffs, para-tariff and non- tariff measures, direct trade measures including medium and long-term contract and sectoral Agreements.

In the first round negotiations of SAPTA, member countries exchanged tariff concessions on 226 items, India gave concessions ranging from 10% to 100% on 106 tariff lines.

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The second round, which was more comprehensive, concluded in November, 1996. In this round, 1975 tariff lines were covered, with India giving concessions on 911 tariff lines. The third round concluded on November 23, 1998.

In this round, the member States exchanged concessions on 3456 tariff lines, out of which India offered concessions on 1917 tariff lines. Out of the concessions offered by India, only 43 tariff lines are available for non-IDC member countries (Sri Lanka and Pakistan).

The final objective of the negotiations under SAPTA is the achievement of the South Asian Free Trade Area or SAPTA.

At the SAARC Summit at Male in May 1997, the goal of establishing a South Asian Free Trade Area had been accepted and the importance of achieving this goal by the year 2001 underlined. The tenth SAARC Summit at Colombo in July 1998, took a concrete decision to transform this goal into a reality.

It was decided that a group of experts from all the seven SAARC countries will commence negotiations on an Agreement or Treaty for a South Asian Free Trade Area. This agreement will spell out binding schedules for freeing trade and is expected to be finalised and put in place by 2001.

During the SAARC summit at Colombo in July 1998, an offer was made to all the SAARC member countries, that India would be willing to enter into bilateral Free Trade Agreements with them, to accelerate the pace of economic integration in the region.

A positive response was received from Sri Lanka. After two round of negotiations, a Free Trade Agreement was signed on December 28,1998, by our Prime Minister and the President of Sri Lanka in New Delhi.

Further, during the Summit, the Prime Minister also announced that import restrictions maintained by India for BOP reasons on 2307 items, shall be removed for imports from the SAARC countries.

This has come into effect from August 1, 1998. These measures are expected to promote trade and economic cooperation between the SAARC member countries.

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