The South Asian Association for regional Cooperation (SAARC)was established on 8 December 1985 when the government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka formally adopted its charter providing for the promotion of economic and social progress, cultural development within the South Asia region and also for friendship and cooperation with other developing countries. The basic principles as envisaged in SAARC are sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of other states and mutual benefit. All decisions within this regional setting are to be taken on the basis of consensus. Till date 11 summit meetings of the heads have taken place-Dhaka (1985), Bangalore (1986), Kathmandu (1987), Islamabad (1988), Male (1990), Colombo (1991), Dhaka (1993), New Delhi (1995), Colombo (1998) and Kathmandu (2002).
SAARC functions on the basis of the following formal institutions:
The Council of Ministers, responsible for formulating policies and deciding on new areas of cooperation.
Standing Committee comprising foreign secretaries of member states with the task of monitoring and coordination. The programming Committee consisting of senior officials scrutinizing the secretarial budget, assists the Standing committee.
The Technical Committee formulates specialized programmes in their respective fields under the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action (SIPA).SIPA is the core of SAARC’s work programme reflected in the technical committee. The seven technical committees under the SIPA cover are-a)agricultural and rural development; b) communications and transport; c) social development; d) environment, meteorology and forestry; e) science and technology; f) human resources development; and g) energy.
Specialized Ministerial Meetings which focus on specific areas of concern like international economic issues, children, women’s issues, environment, poverty alleviation, youth, disabled, housing, agriculture, trade, tourism and culture.
SAARC has identified certain areas on which collective positions could be projected and promoted in international forums. According to its Charter, acceleration of economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region, promotion of active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields and strengthening of cooperation among the member states in international for a on matters of common interest are some of its main objectives.
While social issues are one of the main areas of cooperation focusing on issues of child development, health, and women, SAARC’s accent is on economic cooperation and growth among developing countries. With this in view, SAARC initiated since 1991 several measures such as an extensive study on Trade Manufactures and Services(TMS);setting up the Committee on Economic Cooperation (CEC) to oversee implementation of measures and policies to enhance trade economic relations between member states; the adoption of the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA)-signed on 11 April 1993 which came into force on 7 December 1995-leading to trade negotiations, depending tariff concessions and steps towards evolving the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) to further liberalize trade within the region. These apart, SAARC has initiated a few unprecedented initiatives to devise common strategies in the international for such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), for ensuring a non-discriminatory world trade regime. Also SAARC members have renewed their commitment to encourage participation of private sector and to organize trade-fairs to promote intra-SAARC trade and organized tourism.
Notwithstanding these positive developments, the SAARC is riddled with problems, which are somewhat typical to this regional setting. For one, the long-drawn political-diplomatic wrangle between India and Pakistan over an array of issues has slowed the pace of the SAARC integration process. Furthermore, the disparate level, of the region’s economies also has considerably affected priorities of these countries in the global trade regime.