Sri Lanka is one of eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The other members are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan. The secretariat of the SAARC is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. The SAARC was founded on 8 December 1985 during a first summit of seven Southasian heads of states or governments. Afghanistan joined the SAARC in April 2007. Highest level meetings are held annually or at least biennielly, the foreign ministers meet twice annually.
The SAARC is a multilateral entity similar to ASEAN in Southeast Asia, but not as closely linked institutionally as the European Union. The preparation to establish the association were accelerated after the USSR's intervention in Afghanistan. The cooperation and many summits have been overshadowed by tensions between India and Pakistan right from the beginning. The initial five agreed areas of cooperation are agriculture, rural development, telecommunications, meteorology; and health issues. Currently, there are eleven Cooperation Centres based in the seven founding nations. Sri Lanka hosts the SAARC Cultural Centre (SCC). A free-trade agreement called SAFTA was signed during Twelfth SAARC Summit held in Islamabad, Pakistan, and entered into force on 1 January 2006.
Until now, three SAARC Summits were held in Sri Lanka, in 1991, 1998, and 2008.
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