“Civil society’s valuable contribution to framing of successful state policies is a fact that is often goes unacknowledged’, said Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, in his address to a South Asia Regional Conference. The Conference on “Participatory Approaches to South Asian Regional Integration and Connectivity” was co-organised by CUTS and the Australian Agency for International Development at New Delhi on 12th April, 2013. Giving examples of successful interventions made by non-state actors in state policy matters, he asserted that inputs provided by the civil society should not be seen merely as a bonus in the making of good public welfare policies, but an absolute necessity.
The conference was organised with the objective of developing a shared understanding of the big issues affecting progress towards regional economic integration in South Asia and identify priority actions.
Gopal Menon, Country Manager, India and South Asia Regional Programs of the Australian Agency for International Development, said that cooperation among South Asian countries in regional economic affairs is of utmost importance, given the common challenges, opportunities and conditions they face. While civil society’s influence on policy making at the national level should increase for all the right reasons, one area where their involvement is inevitable is the need for regional economic cooperation.
In her opening remarks, Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Representative of the United Nations Development Programme, said that development and inclusiveness go hand in hand. It is of utmost importance that the voices of weak sections of the society are to be heard at the highest level if South Asian countries are to accomplish truly inclusive growth. She pointed out that the South Asian region faces some of the most difficult developmental challenges and asserted that trade policies should be fine-tuned to promote goods and services that are produced and consumed by marginalised sections of the society.
Sabrina Varma, Trade Advisor, Economic Section of the Australian Agency for International Development presented a strategy for supporting regional connectivity in South Asia.
She said that sustained growth is the most direct route to reducing poverty. Empirical evidence and country experiences show that trade is a key driver of growth and that trade openness has been an important element of the ability of many countries to move up the development ladder. She highlighted the role of governments in encouraging economic growth through the rules they set for private sector activity. In this context, she said that AusAID would support initiatives for improving the policy environment for sustainable growth, trade, and private sector development.
South Asian integration offers prospects for connecting lagging regions, increasing factor mobility, reaping economies of scale, diversifying of markets and goods and improving efficiency and competitiveness. The timing for pushing ahead the agenda of South Asian integration is right at the moment given that there is a global momentum going in its favour. The regional leadership should take long term commitments in this direction, while civil society, other stakeholders and development partners should join hands to perform a supportive role.
Nagesh Kumar, Director and Chief Economist, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and Biplove Chaudhuri, Programme Specialist, United Nations Development Programme, Asia-Pacific Regional Centre, Bangkok, also spoke at the occasion. Some of the other distinguished speakers were Humayun Kabir, Vice President, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute; Tuhin Sen, Lead Strategist, Global Development Network, New Delhi; Saman Kalegama, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka; Karma, Chief Executive Officer, SAARC Development Fund, Bhutan; Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan; Bipul Chatterjee, Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International; Shirin Akter, Chairperson of Karmojibi Nari, Bangladesh; and Nadeem Iqbal, Executive Coordinator, The Network for Consumer Protection, Pakistan.
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