Kolkata, October 29, 2014
“We already have regional standards for 23 items that have been developed by SARSO”” shared Humayun Kabir, Director General, South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (SARSO). He further added that the signing of the SAARC Agreement on Multilateral Arrangement on Recognition of Conformity Assessment by all member countries is expected to majorly help in doing away standards related technical barriers to trade in the region. Kabir was speaking at a two day long dialogue on ‘Trade, Transport and Transit Facilitation in South Asia: Imperative of Bridging Macro-Meso-Micro Gaps’ organized by CUTS International in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and with support from South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment and The Asia Foundation on 29-30 October, 2014, in Kolkata. The event deliberated on issues related to trade, transport and transit facilitation in South Asia taking into account the results of activities of CUTS International and a number of other like-minded organisations from among the South Asian countries.
Ramesh Kumar Mutha, Vice President, SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry, mentioned that the SAARC Multimodal Transport Agreement will be really crucial towards trade, transport and transit facilitation in South Asia and added that he was optimistic about some positive development in this direction at the upcoming SAARC Summit to be organised in Kathmandu in November 2014.
Bipul Chatterjee, Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International, highlighted the role of technology with regards to harmonisation of regulations on standards, transportation, etc. in the region. He stressed that for such harmonisation to happen the countries in the region need a common minimum technology as the facilitating platform.
M. P. Bezbaruah, Member, North Eastern Council, Government of India, said that the trade corridors of South Asia needs to be developed in a way so that they become corridors for people to people connect along with being corridors for trade and cargo movement. He also highlighted the importance of India’s North East region with regards to greater connectivity and trade facilitation between India and its neighbours Myanmar and Bangladesh and further with South East Asia.
Adding on to Bezbaruah’s remark on people to people connectivity, Sanjeev Nandwani, Additional Director General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, said that tourism can be a very effective tool and mean to enhance regional cooperation in South Asia and beyond. He stressed that Tourism needs to feature as the fourth “T” in dialogues for Trade, Transport and Transit facilitation.
Paramita Dasgupta, Manager, Trade & Competitiveness, South Asia, World Bank Group, spoke about procedural delays slowing down trade in the region and added that as high as 40-60% of the delay in trade transportation is caused by delays in documentation. She also stressed the important role that private sector needs to play in facilitating greater regional cooperation in South Asia and hence the importance of including them in dialogues and consultations.
Various other speakers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and India stressed on the need to expedite the long ongoing discussions on regional integration of South Asia. Participants at the event observed that possible gains from such integration are already widely recognised and it is time for some action oriented advocacy and lobbying towards palpable changes in the region. The two day event had participation from around 120-130 participants comprising of policy makers, private players, multilateral agencies, subject experts, business associations and chambers, academicians, civil society and media representatives from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and India.
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