SAARC is an economic and political regional organisation of countries in South Asia set up in 1985. It aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in its member states through increased intra-regional cooperation. It has eight member countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka) and eight observer status countries (China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Burma/Myanmar and the United States of America). SAARC Heads of State are scheduled to meet at annual Summits. The last Summit was held in 2010 in Thimphu (Bhutan), with Bhutan becoming the SAARC Chair. The Maldives will be chairing SAARC from 10-11 November, when the 17th Summit will take place in the capital Male.
The EU has observer status since 2006, and greatly values co-operation and regional integration in South Asia. The EU believes that it can help consolidate the ongoing integration process through its economic influence in the region, its own historical experience of economic and trade integration and of dealing with diversity, and its interest in crisis prevention. It is convinced that SAARC could play a useful role in regional co-operation and dialogue.
Cooperation between the EU and SAARC notably seeks to promote the harmonisation of standards; facilitate trade; raise awareness about the benefits of regional cooperation; and promote business networking in the SAARC area.
Key Milestones: 1996: European Commission and SAARC Secretariat sign Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation which has provided the background for technical assistance on trade matters.
1999: EU and SAARC agree to cooperate on improving market access for SAARC products into EU, working towards a cumulation of rules of origin for SAARC products for exports to the EU, giving a Technical support for the establishment of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and supporting the harmonisation of SAARC standards.
2006: EU obtains SAARC Observer Status.