The South Asian Free Trade Area (SA) is an agreement reached on Januaits12th SAARC summit]] in Islamabad, Pakistan. It created a free trade area of 1.6 billion people in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (as of 2011, the combined population is 1.8 billion people). The seven foreign ministers of the region signed a framework agreement on SAFTA to reduce customs duties of all traded goods to zero by the year 2016.
The SAFTA agreement came into force on January 1, 2006, and is operational following the ratification of the agreement by the seven governments. SAFTA requires the developing countries in South Asia (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 (Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Maldives) have an additional three years to reduce tariffs to zero. India and Pakistan ratified the treaty in 2009, whereas Afghanistan as the 8th memberstate of the SAARC ratified the SAFTA protocol on 4 May 2011.
The Agreement on SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) was signed on April 11, 1993, and entered into force on December 7, 1995, with the desire of the Member States of SAARC (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives) 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 SAFTA are as under;
In 2011, Afghanistan joined SAFTA.
The purpose of SAFTA is to encourage and elevate common contract among the countries such as medium and long term contracts. Contracts involving trade operated by states, supply and import assurance in respect of specific products etc. It involves agreement on tariff concession like national duties concession and non-tariff concession.
The main objective of the agreement is to promote competition in the area and to provide equitable benefits to the countries involved. It aims to benefit the people of the countries by bringing transparency and integrity among the nations. SAFTA was also formed in order to increase the level of trade and economic cooperation among the SAARC nations by reducing the tariff and barriers and also to provide special preference to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs)among the SAARC nations.
Following are the instrument involved in SAFTA:-
According to the Trade Liberalisation Programme Contracting countries must follow the following tariff reduction schedule. There should be a fall to 20% tariff from the existing tariff by the Non Least Developing Countries and 30% reduction from the existing tariff by the Least Developing Countries. But trade liberalisation scheme is not to be applied for the sensitive list because this list is to be negotiated among the contracting countries and then to be traded. Sensitive list will involve common agreement among the contracting countries favouring the least developed contracting countries. SAFTA Ministerial Council (SMC) will be participating to review the sensitive list in every four years with a view of reducing the list.
A sensitive list is a list with every country which does not include tariff concession. Bangladesh has 1,233 products on the sensitive list for the Least Developing countries and 1,241 for the non-Least developing countries under the SAFTA. Bangladesh will reduce the sensitive list by 246 items for the least developed countries (LDCs) and 248 for the non-LDCs. India has 25 items on the sensitive list for the LDCs and 695 for the non-LDCs. Dr Manmohan Singh, then Indian Prime Minister, announced in September in Dhaka that he will reduce the Sensitive List by 46. Bhutan has 150 items for both the LDCs and non-LDCs and has no plan of shortening its list. Nepal has 1,257 for the LDCs and 1,295 for the non-LDCs. Nepal has reduced its list by 259 from its previous list of 1295. Now it's 1036, said joint secretary at Ministry of Commerce and Supplies. The Maldives has 681 for all seven SAFTA nations. Pakistan had 1,169 in its sensitive list but has cut its sensitive list by 20% to 936. Sri Lanka has 1,042 and Afghanistan has 1,072 items on the negative list.