Opening Remarks by Hon. Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali at the Virtual Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers

Opening Remarks by Hon. Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal (Chairperson) at the
Virtual Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers
Kathmandu, 24 September 2020

Hon. Ministers for Foreign/External Affairs of SAARC Member States,
Heads of Delegation,
Foreign Secretaries,
His Excellency the Secretary General of SAARC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon and Namaste!

I am pleased to welcome you all in today’s Virtual Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers. I wish to express my sincere thanks to Your Excellencies and the distinguished Heads of Delegations for being able to join this meeting this today. I look forward to having a constructive deliberation on the agenda items before us. I am confident that with our collective efforts we will come up with some tangible takeaways from this meeting. Needless to say, this is a forum where we discuss common regional issues by remaining within the parameters outlined by the SAARC Charter.

I also take this opportunity to welcome His Excellency Mr. Esala Weerakoon, Secretary-General of SAARC and commend him and his team for making excellent preparation for this meeting.

SAARC has made a long journey since its inception in 1985. An effective, efficient, and result-oriented SAARC capable of bringing visible changes in the life of the peoples has always been our aspiration.

In the last 35 years, we have achieved some important milestones in key areas. We have created institutional and legal frameworks, intensified our efforts in such areas as alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, promoting trade and commerce, expanding connectivity, deepening people-to-people contacts, and expanding contacts with external organization having similar objectives and purposes.

The progress report of the Secretary General suggests that we need to do more to tackle both the traditional and emerging challenges facing the region through deeper and meaningful cooperation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been shaking every foundation of development and deeply impacting humanity in our region and all over the world. We have seen the fallouts of Covid-19 in our economy, in our education system, in our social life and people’s livelihood. The number of infected cases is on the rise.

Shrinking revenue, rising public expenditure, and increasing unemployment will further aggravate the situation in the coming days. Covid-19 is going to pose a serious security threat to the wellbeing of millions of people in South Asia.

The SAARC Leaders’ Video Conference hosted by Prime Minister of India His Excellency Shri Narendra Modi on 15 March 2020 remained instrumental in forging regional partnership to fight the pandemic.

In these trying times, it is vital to expand connectivity and ensure smooth supply of essential medicines and medical equipment. Sharing of knowledge, experience, technology and best practices could help develop resilience and to fight the pandemic collectively.

During the 18th SAARC Summit held in 2014 in Kathmandu we agreed to hold the meetings of the Charter bodies regularly.

The delay in convening the 19th SAARC Summit and the absence of formal meetings of the SAARC Charter bodies since 2016, has greatly impacted the functioning of our organization. Consequently, key regional arrangements and instruments, and important undertakings and activities have been on hold for a long time. This has raised a serious question about the relevancy of the regional cooperation process that our leaders so thoughtfully launched and nurtured. We need to explore all viable options to generate the momentum and dynamism in SAARC. It is incumbent upon us to work towards creating an environment conducive to hold the Summit and other Charter body meetings.

The trading arrangements like SAFTA and SATIS are yet to come into full operation. Despite many commonalities in terms of geography, history, civilization, and culture, we remain one of the least integrated regions in trade and connectivity compared to other regions. We need to enhance our cooperation in the core areas of trade, investment, agriculture, energy, connectivity, and climate change.

Nepal is fully committed to advancing the SAARC process forward in a spirit of unity and solidarity among fellow member states. Given the huge potentials in the region, we need to chart a long-term course with a view to utilizing these resources through deeper integration.

Mutual trust and confidence among the Member States are vital to achieving the objectives of SAARC. While we may have difference on certain issues, SAARC process must be insulated and allowed to move forward because we have invested so much time, energy and resources in it. We want to see a SAARC that is both vibrant and united. We must build on our collective strengths and narrow down the differences on the matters of regional cooperation.

Therefore, we must take a bold decision to push the process forward with a strong commitment to deepen cooperation in areas which can really transform the development landscape of this region. Concentration rather than proliferation should be the guiding norms. It is an unpleasant irony that a region, which is rich in both natural and human resources, continues to languish in poverty and hunger at a time when many other regions are making incredible progress in several areas.

This region has huge potentials for development. Apart from development challenges, we continue facing the challenges that cannot be addressed with efforts of an individual member state. The complex and transboundary nature of the challenges make the process regional cooperation indispensable. Therefore, cooperation has no alternative; the cost of non-cooperation will be colossal.

Thank you!