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Speech by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the concluding session of 13th SAARC Summit

November 13, 2005

On behalf of all of us gathered here today, I have the honour to convey our appreciation to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Her Excellency Begum Khaleda Zia, for her leadership in chairing this Thirteenth Summit of SAARC, and for her thought provoking concluding Address. 

The SAARC process has gained from her vision and statesmanship. 

Our sincere thanks are also due to the Government of Bangladesh, to the people of this city, and all others who have taken great pains to ensure the success of this Summit, while making our stay in this historic city memorable. 

I would also like to thank my colleagues, the leaders of the SAARC member states, whose shared vision of regional cooperation, and common desire for mutually beneficial progress and prosperity, has brought us together on the SAARC platform. In addition, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of our Ministers and officials, whose untiring efforts have brought us closer to achieving the goals we have set for ourselves in SAARC. And I also wish to thank the outgoing Secretary General of SAARC, Mr. Q.A.M.A Rahim for all his contributions. 

We welcome his able successor, Mr. Chenkyab Dorji, whose work during this Summit has been praise-worthy. The Secretary General and his team in the Secretariat are truly the backbone of SAARC. 

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I believe that we can look back on the past few days with a sense of satisfaction at our achievements. I think it will be fair to say that this Summit will be remembered for several substantive outcomes that have emerged in Dhaka. 

We are delighted to welcome Afghanistan to our group. This is an appropriate recognition of the long-standing ties of culture and history that Afghanistan shares with us. We have also noted the interest of the People’s Republic of China and Japan to become Observers in SAARC. We are happy to note that the SAARC Council of Ministers will finalize the guidelines and modalities for such status at the earliest. 

In terms of the agenda that we have set ourselves, we have also recorded satisfactory progress at this Summit. 

We have signed three Agreements a short while ago, covering avoidance of Double Taxation, on Customs, and on the establishment of a SAARC Arbitration Council. We have also agreed to a liberalization of the visa regime, so as to facilitate freer travel among all our people, including our media persons. On the other hand, I would like to underline that we must expedite the process of resolving the few outstanding issues that separate us from final agreement on SAFTA. It must be our collective effort to ensure that this Agreement enters into force on January 1, 2006. 

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

The Declaration we have adopted is a forward-looking document that will add new vigour to the SAARC process. A number of very substantive proposals are included in this document. These include some that the Government of India has been pleased to offer, with the aim of bringing about greater interaction between our people, and greater integration of our region. These include our offer, on a reciprocal basis, to greatly expand airline connectivity within our region. We have planned several measures to develop our most valuable asset, our human resources. These include establishing a South Asian University, by integrating elements in our Social Charter, and creating a collaborative healthcare project involving a regional telemedicine network. We hope these and other similar measures will enable us to take one further step in the eventual abolition of the age old scourges of poverty and ignorance. We have also agreed to find new ways of cooperating in exploiting the opportunities of the future, ranging from information and communication technology to evolving a collective energy strategy. 

It is my firm belief that through our collective efforts, our region can, and will, overcome the multiple challenges of poverty, ignorance and disease that constrain our peoples. India has the privilege of hosting the Fourteenth SAARC Summit. It will be our sincere endeavour to work with you all to carry forward the SAARC agenda and build on all that we have achieved in Dhaka. We look forward to welcoming you all to India. 

Thank you.