Pakistan on Wednesday skipped a video-conference held by member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to follow up on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on regional trade. The regional group had held a conference to discuss the topic last month on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion.

The meeting involved senior trade officials of all SAARC member nations except Pakistan, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said. The members felt the pandemic was likely to have a considerably adverse impact on trade in the region, and to sustain and expand trade until normalcy returns, “new ways and means” should be “jointly identified”, the ministry said.

“The imperative need to maintain essential trade within the SAARC region was viewed as an important thrust area for favourable consideration,” the ministry said.

The participants proposed to remain in close and regular touch through a designated focal point in each country. India offered to coordinate this exercise, which it said would “also enable further interaction on ideas and proposed actions aimed at early restoration of normal trade” in the region.

In the first video meeting by SAARC nations on March 15, Pakistan had raised the matter of Jammu and Kashmir. While all other countries were represented by their prime ministers or presidents, Pakistan was represented by State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza.

During that meeting, Modi had suggested that a Covid-19 emergency fund for SAARC countries be set up, and India allotted $10 million to the corpus. Pakistan was the only member that did not contribute to the fund, reports said. The country has asked for the fund to be administered by SAARC’s secretary general and sought clarity about its utilisation, Dawn reported.