bdnews24.com : Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed has said facilitation of transit and transshipment facilities to each other could help South Asian nations achieve greater economic integration. He says increased transit and transshipment activity in the SAARC region through road, rail and river transports could be another important means of enhancing integration in the region. “Bangladesh believes such activity will enhance trade connectivity in the South Asia,” said Tofail addressing the fifth South Asian Business Leaders’ Conclave in New Delhi on Thursday. “Any efforts on the part of the governments of the South Asian countries towards facilitation of cross border trade with other regional and sub-regional countries will contribute to a great extent in furthering regional trade integration,” he said. Ahmed is on his maiden tour to New Delhi after taking over as Commerce Minister in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s new government that came to power after the elections on Jan 5. His reference to transit and transshipment facilities assume significance as the Awami League government’s move to extend such facilities to India over the past few years triggered protests from the opposition parties in Bangladesh. He said Bangladesh gave high priority on fostering greater economic integration in the SAARC region by generating trade opportunities among the member countries. Dhaka believed that such integration with other South Asian countries will help Bangladesh move towards achieving its goal of becoming a middle income country by 2021, Tofail added. “Bangladesh believes that no nation can prosper alone or in isolation. They need to constantly interact with others for trade and other multifarious purposes. “From that perspective, Bangladesh acknowledges its membership in the South Asian Community with interest and vigour,” he said. The immense opportunity that the SAARC offers for trade generation through economic cooperation among the eight countries makes it an important platform for its members to achieve prosperity and to maintain sustained growth, he added. “The major trade facilitation issues are the improvement of infrastructure including warehousing facilities at the land customs stations, the reduction of numerous non-tariff measures, most of which relate to standards and testing requirements and the development of integrated cross-border management across the region,” the Commerce Minister noted. Tofail said though the SAARC member countries had signed several pacts like South Asian Preferential Trading Arrangement, South Asian Free Trade Area and more recently, the SAARC Agreement of Trade in Services, the pace of trade integration in the region had remained slow. Citing an example, he stated that the intra-SAARC trade share increased from 2.7 percent of its trade with the world in 1990 to 4.3 percent in 2011. On the other hand, he pointed out, intra-ASEAN, intra-NAFTA and intra-European Union (EU) trade has seen manifold increase over the same period.