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SAARC Foreign Ministers to review progress on SAFTA

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JULY 16. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Foreign Ministers' meeting in Islamabad on July 20-21 will review the progress in implementing the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) framework agreement signed in January this year.

Sources in the External Affairs Ministry said today that SAFTA would be operationalised from January 1, 2006, with Least Developed Countries (LDCs) having been given more time to adhere to the accord.

The mid-year meeting of Foreign Ministers will take stock of the implementation of the framework agreement — especially the finalisation of sensitive lists and agreement on the rules of origin.

The Committee of Experts on these issues has met thrice since the January SAARC summit. A fourth meeting of the panel will take place in Thimpu during August 2-4, where "indicative" sensitive lists are expected to be exchanged.

Further discussion on the rules of origin will also take place in Thimpu, the sources said.

An informal meeting of Foreign Ministers is likely to take place on July 19 evening or July 20 morning — prior to the formal Council of Ministers meeting — that will be attended by the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh.

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