After 25 years of SAARC, 15 years of SAPTA, and another 6 years of SAFTA, there is scant progress in the area of trade and investment under the regional accord umbrella. Intra-South Asia trade lagged far behind the growth of the region's trade with the rest of the world due to the persistence of substantial tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in the region, thereby impeding growth of trade and investment despite efforts at regional cooperation. Though tariffs have come down in all the countries, they are still high compared to other major regions of the world, thus presenting the first barrier to economic integration. Realizing that South Asian countries had some of the highest tariffs globally - something that was surely hurting intra-regional trade- the leaders agreed to scale down these tariffs on an accelerated schedule under the auspices of SAFTA in order to improve market access. Though SAFTA does provide preferential access to these markets, NTBs and sensitive lists remain major impediments to smooth access to markets for competitive exports from Bangladesh. Given that the common dominant theme of national policies in the region is to accelerate growth and reduce poverty, boosting intra-regional trade could be an integral part of that strategy, which gives SAFTA the sound basis and the greatest opportunity for more tangible results in the future than has been observed in the past. This paper articulates how the key challenges need to be addressed to make SAFTA yield results.
JBS Vol 14. Num 1. 2012 - Tariff and Non-Tariff Barriers in South Asia Trade: A Bangladesh Perspective