Strengthening trade ties among SAARC members suggested

Financial Express Bangladesh, June 01, 2012

Leading policy markers and researchers have suggested for improving agriculture production by using quality seeds and strengthening trade relations among the member-countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), to ensure food security in the region.

The observations came at a seminar on “Emerging Issues on Trade, Climate Change and Food Security: Way Forward for South Asia”, held at the auditorium of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS)’s in Colombo Thursday.

Climate change is going to pose considerable challenges to the agricultural sector along with food security, they said, which adding that climate change would bring additional challenges to food security if appropriate actions are not taken at all levels.

“There is a direct link between the effects of trade on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. International trade involves emissions of greenhouse gases through the transportation of goods,” Sri Lankan Environment Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said while inaugurating the seminar.

The minister aid climate change will effect all four dimensions of food security — food availability, food accessibility, food utilisation and food system’s stability.

“All nations are affected by the impacts of climate change. However, developing countries like us are particularly vulnerable due to lack of the necessary adaptive capacity for securing our food production,” the Sri Lankan minister noted.

He also said trade-opening measures could facilitate both adoption of technologies that reduce the emission-intensity of goods and their production process and the change in the mix of a country’s production from energy-intensive sectors towards less energy-intensive sectors.

“By increasing the diffusion of mitigation technologies, trade liberalization can help mitigate climate change,” the minister noted.

The regional seminar is being jointly organised by the IPS and South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), in partnership with Oxfam Novib.

“At the regional level, it is trade policies that play a pivotal role in ensuing the food security,” Executive Director of the IPS Saman Kelegama said.

The formation of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) in 2006 and the initiative to drive trade in service via the South Asia Trade in Services in 2008 are positive steps in this direction, he added.

Mr. Kelegama also said the agricultural sector in the South Asian countries is facing an array of issues, in terms of production and distribution.

“He noted that declining productivity levels and resultant decrease in yield levels had become a serious problem, leading to increased food prices and their adverse impacts on the vulnerable groups.

Executive Chairman of the SAWTEE Posh Raj Pandey said South Asian countries are not only diverse in their size but also in their social and economic structures; nonetheless, these countries have the common goal of sustainable development and increasing welfare of the people.

“….regional policies have to be considered, not only to increase the connectivity of countries to regional groupings but also to bring them under the umbrella of a larger regional grouping,” he said, adding that domestic policies must be adjusted to take full advantage of the benefits of multilateral initiatives.

“Countries need to integrate with the world economy through the multilateral initiatives. De-linking is not an option, as multilateral initiatives provide frameworks that are fair and equitable for all countries and convey immense benefits,” the SAWTEE chief noted.

Executive Director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SENEM) Selim Raihan said introducing a regional seed bank in the South Asian region will open a huge opportunity of sharing and exchanging seed and seed-related technology and genetic resources as well.

The SAARC states plan to set up a regional seed bank to help farmers get quality seeds from reserve in case of shortage due to natural and manmade calamities, according to the draft agreement.

“The seed bank will act as a media of exchanging and sharing of seed verities products in South Asia and help farmers get quality ensured seeds,” Dr. Selim said, adding that it will also help member countries to access better plant genetic resources, technologies and techniques and implement these on local existing verities.

Consultant of the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International Kasturi Mukhopadhyay said the seed industry has grown and is growing because farmers are buying more seeds than ever, which are mainly improved hybrid varieties. “Such growth is not possible if farmers are self-reliant,” she noted.

Identifying South Asia as being the most vulnerable region, Director of the Climate Action Network South Asia Ranga Pallawala said many South Asian countries are already spending a great deal of money and efforts to adapt to climate change.

“Crop yields might decrease by, up to 30 per cent, in South Asian by the mid-21st century,” Mr Pallawala said while describing the impact on climate change in agricultural and food security in the South Asian countries.

Among others, former Secretary General of SAARC Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo, Climate Negotiator for the Maldives at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Amjad Abdulla, former director-economic affaires, Commonwealth Secretarial, the United Kingdom Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Director General -Economic Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs of Sri Lanka Sumith Nakandala and Additional Commerce Secretary of Pakistan Fazal Abbas Maken, also spoken on the occasion.

The two-day regional seminar is being attended by policy makers, researchers, journalists and development practioners working in areas of trade, climate change and food security.

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