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SAARC areas of cooperation

Biotechnology

The issue of institutionalising cooperation on Biotechnology has been on SAARC Agenda for some time. It was first mooted during the Fifth SAARC Summit in 1990 and successive Summits reiterated the call for concrete collaboration in this field. Leaders during the Tenth Summit in 1998, reiterated their call for intensifying cooperation in biotechnology.

The erstwhile Technical Committee on Science and Technology gave focused treatment of the subject of biotechnology, in view of the immense potential in improving the quality of life in the region, given its vast reservoir of biodiversity and conducive climate.

With the restructuring of the Integrated Programme of Action as RIPA, the Working Group on Biotechnology was formed in January 2004 to coordinate regional cooperation in this important field.

Plan of Action for Cooperation in Biotechnology Member States have agreed to develop a Plan of Action for Cooperation in Biotechnology.

The six areas of collaboration identified for the Plan of Action are Plant Tissue Culture, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Plant Biotechnology including Therapeutic and Edible Vaccines, Vaccines and Diagnostics for Human Health, Aquaculture, and Human Resource Development. Concept papers are being prepared by Member States in each of these. Once prepared, a Group of Experts would examine those.

The Group of Experts will finalise the proposed Plan of Action, which will be regional in character and will clearly outline modalities of cooperation.

Institutional Framework for Biotechnological Cooperation SAARC Leaders have called for institutionalising cooperation in the field of biotechnology including establishment of a networking arrangement.

A Concept Paper on Developing an Institutional Framework for Biotechnology Cooperation is being finalised on the basis of comments received from the Member States, giving emphasis on networking approach.

The proposals in the Concept Paper include setting up of a Standing Group on Biotechnology. This Group would function as a chief advisory body that embodies a diverse perspective on science, health and agriculture.

State-of-the-Art Report The following State-of-the-Art Reports have been prepared. They were part of a set of four Reports that were considered by the erstwhile Technical Committee on Science and Technology. Meetings of experts will be convened to develop common regional strategies and concrete plans of action on the basis of the Reports.

i. State-of-the-Art Report on Selected Rural Technologies ii. State-of-the-Art Report on Biotechnology New Areas in Biotechnology In view of the importance of regional cooperation in Biotechnology, a proposal to draw a regional framework for Biosafety Procedures and Protocols is being considered in the context of the rules and regulations prevailing in the Member States.

Member States are in the process of sharing information in this important area. A concept paper on a regional framework for Biosafety Procedures and Protocols will be finalised.

Communications

Recognising the escalating revolution in the ICT sector and the tremendous opportunities and daunting challenges emanated there-from, the issue of communications received due prominence in the SAARC process.

The Heads of State or Government at their Ninth SAARC Summit (Male’, May 1997), noted that inadequate communications facilities amongst the Member States were a major hindrance to closer economic cooperation.

They stressed the importance of developing infrastructure and adequate communications networks among Member States to reinforce the process of economic cooperation.

In this regard, they highlighted the need for the simplification of complex documentation procedures and transactional software to facilitate economic interaction across the region.

Pursuant to the above decision, the SAARC Communications Ministers held their First Conference in Colombo in May 1998. They agreed that telecommunications should not be looked upon purely as a source of revenue but rather as a multifaceted process enhancing socio-economic development in the region.

They also agreed on specific steps to further promote cooperation among Member States on a sustained basis. The Conference adopted a Plan of Action on Telecommunications.

The SAARC Communications Ministers held their second Conference in Islamabad in June 2004. In view of the rapid and innovative developments in the telecommunications sector, they had in-depth discussion on the earlier Plan of Action.

They agreed on a comprehensive strategy for cooperation to facilitate the enhancement and expansion of telecommunications facilities in the region and adopted a Revised SAARC Plan of Action on Telecommunications - 2004 with the following goals and objectives:

To promote cooperation in the enhancement of telecommunication links and utilisation of information technologies within the SAARC region; To minimise disparities within and among Member States in the telecommunications field; To harness telecommunication technology for the social and economic upliftment of the region through infrastructure development by optimal sharing of available resources and enhanced cooperation in technology transfer, standardisation and human resource development; and To evolve a coordinated approach on issues of common concern in international telecommunications fora. In order to achieve these goals and objectives, the Ministers adopted the Revised SAARC Plan of Action on Telecommunications.

The Second Conference also adopted Common Position on issues of concern to the region in Telecommunications sector that was presented at the World Summit for Information Society (WSIS), held in Tunis in November 2005. The Conference felt the need to have more concerted endeavours to address the issue of digital divide and urged the Member States to share their successful initiatives for development of ICT within the region. It decided that fellowships and training programmes for the development of human resources would be offered by Member States.

It decided that the Third Conference would be held in India in the first quarter of 2005. An exhibition of ICT related products developed and manufactured in the region would also be organised concomitantly with the Conference. So far, the Conference has not been held.

Economic cooperation

The acceleration of economic growth is a Charter objective of SAARC. Cooperation in the core economic areas among SAARC Member Countries was initiated following the Study on Trade, Manufactures and Services (TMS), which was completed in June 1991.

Currently, the following important processes of SAARC are promoting cooperation in the field of Trade, Economy and Finance, and related areas:

Committee on Economic Cooperation: Overall Coordination of cooperation in economic areas; SAFTA Committee of Experts and SAFTA Ministerial Council: Administration and implementation of SAFTA; Finance Ministers Mechanism: Cooperation in the field of Finance and related areas; Standing Group on Standards and SAARC Standards Coordination Board: Cooperation in the field of harmonization of Standards; Group on Customs Cooperation is dealing with issues related to harmonisation of Customs rules and procedures.

Energy

During the Twelfth SAARC Summit, the Council of Ministers at its Twenty-Fourth Session approved the most recent restructuring of the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action. Under the new Regional Integrated Programme of Action, (RIPA), seven Technical Committees were reorganised. At the same time five new Working Groups were created. The idea of Working Groups is new in SAARC. Working Groups have been especially created to focus on five new and emerging areas, namely, Energy, Tourism, ICT, Intellectual Property Rights and Biotechnology. The Working Groups are intended to have higher profiles than the Technical Committees and to function along the lines of the Committee on Economic Cooperation that has been functioning for over a decade now. As early as its Fifth Session (Dhaka, 4 December 1985) the Standing Committee approved the recommendation of the then Technical Committee on Science and Technology to hold a workshop on Renewable Energy.

Since then, various activities were held in the energy sector under the auspices of the Technical Committee on Science and Technology.

Subsequently, cooperation in the energy sector was brought directly under the purview of the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action (SIPA) in January 2000 by establishing a new Technical Committee on Energy.

The erstwhile Technical Committee on energy held two meetings to discuss issues related to cooperation in this field in the region. While focusing on the main mandate entrusted to this Working Group by the Leaders at their Twelfth Summit to study various possibilities for cooperation in the field of energy, including the concept of an Energy Ring. Modalities in creating a South Asia Energy Cooperation including the concept of an Energy Ring. (Mandated by the Twelfth SAARC Summit (Islamabad 4-6 January 2004) The Twenty-fifth Session of the Council of Ministers (Islamabad, 20-21 July 2004) approved the Report of the First Meeting of the Working Group on Energy (WORGEN) and recommended the following Plan of Action:

A South Asia Energy Forum at Ministerial level may be formed under the SAARC umbrella for exchange of views on policy issues and cooperation; The possibility of setting up a SAARC Energy Centre may be explored; A study may be carried out on options, benefits and constraints of energy trade in the region; Exchange of information and technical discussions are prerequisites for cooperation and may be encouraged by the respective Governments; Joint strategies may be evolved for global energy forums for the benefit of the Member States; Countries of the region may benefit from each others experiences in institutional and pricing reforms in the energy sector; In the long term, transnational energy lines (electricity, gas and oil) could provide basis for an integrated and prosperous economic future of South Asia; Special focus is required on energy availability in rural areas, including conventional and non-conventional forms of energy for economic development and poverty reduction; Non-conventional and renewable sources of energy may be promoted through sharing of manpower, expertise, know-how and training programmes; Feasibility of establishing a Regional Fund for promoting non-conventional energy may be explored; Energy efficiency and conservation may be promoted as a least cost option; Cooperation on CNG use in transport may be promoted; Lessons may be learnt from innovative projects in Member states such as Nepal electricity rickshaw project, Bangladesh rural electrification cooperative societies etc., and A quarterly internet based SAARC Energy Newsletter may be posted by the Secretariat based on the information provided by the Member States. The Group noted with appreciation that the recommendations made at the erstwhile Technical Committee Meeting merits continuity under the new framework of the Working Group. They decided to pursue cooperation in all recommended areas i.e.

Exchange of Energy information; Environment friendly energy; Creation of a Regional Power-Grid; and Cooperation regarding renewable energy. SAARC-ASEAN Cooperation in the Energy Sector SAARC-ASEAN cooperation recently developed between the two Secretariats recommended the proposal of visit by the Experts from the SAARC region to relevant ASEAN institutions coordinated by the ASEAN Secretariat.

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