Trade: To enhance intra-regional trade and investment among SAARC countries, the 13th SAARC trade fair began at the Changlimithang parking lot in Thimphu yesterday.

A total of 177 companies from four member countries are taking part in the five-day fair. This year the maximum participation is from Nepal where 68 companies are exhibiting their products and services. India is represented by 52 companies followed by 44 from Bhutan and 13 from Bangladesh.

While the goods at display are not much different from what was presented during the first SAARC trade fair in 2009, organisers from the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) said that the fair this year is more focussed on handicrafts and textile products.

BCCI secretary general, Phub Tshering, said that to promote local exports, the focus this year was on local art and craft products.

The Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC) has set up eight stalls at the fair where products like wooden utensils, traditional masks, paintings, sculptures and cloths are exhibited.

Of the eight stalls, Pemagathsel Bura (raw silk) station is one of the main attractions at the fair. Considered to be one of the best bura gho and kira producing dzongkhags, business is already booming for Tshering, the in-charge at the stall.

Similarly, locally made pickles and jams, maize-chips (tengma) and other food products are on display. Kitchen utensils, carpets, furniture, toys machineries, electronics, jewellery, health and educational services among others, are also displayed.

To create a platform for business to business contacts and to build networks among the participants of the member countries, the event this year also includes trade seminars and B2B (business-to-business) meets.

Economic affairs minister, Lekey Dorji who was present for the opening  said that such opportunities fosters business links companies to accelerate economic growth and the wellbeing of the people in the region.

“We believe that the SAARC trade fair has contributed greatly in our endeavour towards realising the common vision of shared prosperity in South Asia,” said Lyonpo.

However, Lyonpo also highlighted the lack of adequate trade among the member countries in the region. He said that despite the proximity of boarders, the country is trading more with other regions than within the region.

“Our region has one-fifth of the world’s population but our intra-regional trade is less than five percent compared with 50 percent for East Asia and 30 percent for South East Asia.”

National governments must overcome challenges on variable logistics, efficiency and cumbersome bureaucratic regulations to facilitate and create a necessary enabling environment to stimulate regional integration and economic growth, said Lyonpo.

“It is imperative that we all continue to support trade liberalisation initiatives under SAFTA and help create a sub-continent of free and seamless flow of goods and services,” added the minister.

The five-day fair will conclude on September 12.

Younten Tshedup