Kathmandu: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced 3-5 year business visas for South Asian neighbours and a satellite for the region while addressing the summit of SAARC or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Nepal.
PM Modi also promised a special funding vehicle, overseen by his country, to finance infrastructure projects in the region.
"Nowhere in the world are collective efforts more urgent than in South Asia; and, nowhere else is it so modest," PM Modi said in a speech in English that focused mainly on improving regional connectivity and trade.
SAARC, he said bluntly, was viewed with cynicism and skepticism. "We must work to change that cynicism into optimism," he told South Asian heads of state gathered at Kathmandu.
The prime minister also said that the future he dreamt for India was the future that he wished for the entire Saarc region.
"There is much to learn from each other, even more - to do together. I know India has to lead and we will do our part. I hope, each of you will, too," he added.
Trade between the SAARC nations -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- has grown from under $140 million in 2008 to $878 million in 2012, according to SAARC figures.
But it still accounts for less than five percent of the region's total commerce, PM Modi said, adding that South Asian nations conduct only 5 percent of their total trade with each other despite a free trade agreement.
Giving an example of the lack of economic integration, the prime minister said goods today have to travel from one Punjab in India to the other Punjab in Pakistan through New Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai and Karachi, making the journey 11 times longer and four times costlier.
But he assured that South Asia was slowly coming together.
Announcing special business and medical visas, he called for nations to make procedures simpler, facilities better and paperwork less burdensome.
"I promise to ensure that our facilities at the border will speed up, not slow down trade," he said.