The 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit concluded Sunday with the adoption of the 'Dhaka Declaration' where summiteers pledged to work together to alleviate poverty, manage disaster, combat terrorism and implement the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) in time for improving the living standard of 1.5 billion of people of the region.
The one-hour long colourful concluding ceremony that was held at the International Conference Centre (ICC) with SAARC's new Chairperson Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in the chair adopted reports of the Council of Ministers before adopting the Dhaka Declaration.
SAARC chairperson and Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in her concluding address laid emphasis on promoting trade, investment and developing the abundant human resources to overcome the general problem of poverty in South Asia.
"The 13th SAARC Summit has declared the coming 10 years in the forum's working calendar as the 'SAARC Decade of Poverty Alleviation'. This signifies a collective commitment to deal with this daunting challenge with all seriousness and urgency," Khaleda Zia added.
The twice-postponed summit got off at the Bangladesh-China Friendship Conference Centre (BCFCC) Saturday in which heads of state or government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended.
During the two-day summit, the leaders of the South Asia that represents one-fifth of the world population, put emphasis on more interaction on trade and economic cooperation, resolution of political disagreements and implementation of decisions taken during the last two decades of the grouping.
Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohon Singh, whose country will host the 14th SAARC Summit next year, delivered the vote of thanks.
Other SAARC leaders- Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Nepalese King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were present.
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga could not attend the closing session as she left for Colombo for exigencies at home. Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, Anura Bandarnaike, stood in to represent her.
On the concluding day Sunday, the summit saw signing of three trade and investment facilitation agreements to enhance trade and investment in the region. The accords are: Agreement on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters, Agreement on the Establishment of SAARC Arbitration Council, and the Limited Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Mutual Administration Assistance in Tax Matters.
SAARC leaders attended the signing ceremony that was held at the state guest house Jamuna.
The long pending issues of SAFTA got top priority in the summit and the South Asian leaders were of similar opinion of putting SAFTA into force from January 1, 2006. Bangladesh Prime Minister in her speech said that SAARC leaders also agreed to remove non-tariff and para-tariff barriers and encourage investment.
The issue of poverty alleviation was highlighted in the speeches of the SAARC leaders, including new SAARC chair Khaleda Zia. The regional leaders also agreed in principle to constitute a regional poverty alleviation fund with an initial amount of US$300 million.
Poverty alleviation turned out to be the main theme of the 13th SAARC Summit where Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia proposed that the period between 2006 and 2015 be declared as the 'SAARC Decade of Poverty Alleviation'.
Before the concluding ceremony, the seven-nation's leaders jointly called on President Prof Dr Iajuddin Ahmed at Bangabhaban.
On the sidelines, the SAARC leaders held several meetings to discuss bilateral and regional issues.