South Asia Economic Summit: Call for building greater synergies between Asean, Saarc regions

Business Recorder, September 13, 2012
Speakers at South Asia Economic Summit on Wednesday called for building greater synergies between Asean and Saarc to benefit from each other’s experiences to achieve the goal of inclusive development in South Asia. Speaking at plenary session on ‘Outlook of South Asia in Post Economic Crisis’, World Bank’s Chief Economist Kalpana Kochar said that the centre of gravity of global economy was now shifting to Asia, thus creating a space for Asian nations to benefit from this paradigm shift.

Nagaish Kumar of Unescap said South Asia could gain from the potential of economic development in the region by building synergies with Asean’s best practices and economic and development modelling. Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Nadeemul Haque stressed the need for adopting changing drivers of economic growth, one of which was to encourage entrepreneurship.

Speakers at the session on food security and regional agricultural trade highlighted the need to look at regional trade with a food security lens as 40% of the world’s hungry population lived in South Asia. Deputy Regional Director Oxfam GB Asia Cherian Mathews was of the view that there was a link between investing in agriculture and food security. He said Oxfam had been undertaking its ‘Grow’ campaign to advocate for an enabling environment wherein food security was ensured amid all sorts of market pressures.

Khondaker Golam Moazzem of Bangladesh’s Centre for Policy Dialogue said that governments of the South Asian region needed to analyse factors changing the sector both internally and externally. Other panellists, including Pradeep Kumar Shrestha from Nepal and Bhim Raj Gurung from Bhutan, agreed that regional co-operation was essential to ensure food security but it was also essential to incorporate into national policies.

Annisul Huq of Bangladesh concluded that growth of regional trade had bleak chances unless the tiresome visa process was relaxed and governments become less conservative to trade. In the session on Regional Trade Agreements in South Asia, Pradeep Mehta from CUTS International called for placing binding commitments to existing free trade agreements such as Safta. He urged South Asian governments to enhance government to government, business to business and people to people relations for effective implementation of free trade agreements.

Dr Saman Kelegama from Sri Lanka said South Asia had the highest cost for inter-regional trade by comparison with other regions in the world. Three fourth of the Saarc trade potential was not being utilised because of non-tariff barriers, he added. Sonam Tashi of Bhutan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs highlighted the need to increase chances of connecting at the highest level of decision making if free trade agreements were to be effectively implemented. Experts at panel on Regional Energy Co-operation lamented that around 289 million people in India, 96 million in Bangladesh and 64 million in Pakistan were without access to electricity.

The session recommended inter-state energy co-operation, joint techno-economic evaluation of opportunities along with the support and participation of multiple stakeholders. Deepti Mahajan of India’s Energy Research Institute said ‘energy resources were concentrated in one country while capabilities to explore those resources were in other. “Hence optimal utilisation of unequally distributed resources is the need of hour,” she said.

Speaking on panel ‘Food Security Challenges’ Sumith Nakandala of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs suggested forming a consortium of scientists to increase food production to overcome alarming food insecurity. SDPI’s Shakeel Ramay said that as food security was a multifaceted issue, it was pertinent to engage sociologists, economists, researchers, anthropologists to address the issues.

M Syeduzzaman, a former finance minister of Bangladesh, chaired the session and recommended that South Asian countries should fully support initiatives in agriculture, regional water sharing and improved regional connectivity. Dr David Orden of US called for revisiting initial goals to match the ever changing reality of South Asia’s economy.

In the session on Regional Co-operation on Water Dr Saeed Shafqat of Foreman Christian College talked on the Indus Water Treaty, saying that mistrust between India and Pakistan could lead to serious issues both at national and international level.

Divas Basynat of Nepal’s Development Research Institute stressed the need for giving equal importance to hydrological and geographical context, besides focusing on engineering solutions. The session on Climate Change discussed effects of climate change on economy, agriculture, health and environment. It was observed that climate change was causing a decrease in agricultural production which was triggering internal migrations across various regions.

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