SAARC Senior Trade Officials Talk Trade amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
8 April 2020
A video conference among South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) senior trade officials was held on 8 April 2020 to discuss the impact of travel restrictions and the larger impact of COVID-19 situation on intra-regional trade.
According to the news release by the Government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the meeting acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have a considerable adverse effect on trade in the SAARC region. Countries recognized the need to maintain essential trade within the SAARC region.
The officials covered a wide range of trade related agenda in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. They stressed the need to jointly identify new ways and means to sustain and expand the intra-regional trade until normal trade channels are fully restored.
Specific issues addressed at the video conference are
- Facilitation of trade through pragmatic solutions, such as provisional clearance of imports at preferential duty with suitable conditions;
- Provisional acceptance of digitally signed certificates of origin;
- Acceptance of scanned copies of documents for clearance of imports by customs and release of payments by banks; and
- Resolving issues on exports/imports at land customs stations on land borders.
The meeting also recognized the need to have a bigger discussion on the impact of health issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic on regional trade and possible measures to mitigate it. As a new focus area for discussion, the meeting suggested taking this up in the larger framework of trade facilitation in the SAARC region.
The countries proposed to remain in close contact through designated focal points in each country. The Government of India offered to coordinate. It also proposed actions aimed at early restoration of normal trade in the region after the movement restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are lifted.
Delegations from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka participated in the video conference.