Trade liberalization provides opportunity but the regional experiences harping on it to bring growth and development to a larger section of society differs across the regions. This was the feelings expressed by the overwhelming majority of experts who assembled here to participate in the project launch meeting entitled “Linkages between Trade, Development & Poverty Reduction”, organised by CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment. The experts from South-East Asia, South Asia, Southern and Eastern Africa shared their country experiences of trade liberalization programmes, which have been implemented over the last one and a half decade or so.
While South-East Asian countries have done exceptionally well in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction, the Southern African countries have experienced their lowest ever economic growth rate in the recent times. In south Asia, the results are mixed. Countries have been able to achieve relatively higher economic growth but it proved insufficient to address the myriad of social problems they are facing. This is also evident from the low ranking of South Asian countries in UNDP’s Human Development Index. Except Sri Lanka other South Asian countries are topping from the bottom.
One of the major concerns, came very clearly was increasing marginalisation of majority of the poor African nations in the global trading landscape. Africa has been unable to take advantage of enormous trade expansion, which have taken place over the last two decades. The share of Africa in the global trade has in fact gone down drastically over this time period. At present what is happening that poor African countries are being forced to integrate without adequate domestic preparedness. Integration into the global economy should not be a prerequisite for achieving higher level of economic growth and development but their outcomes.
Some of the few recommendations that came out of the one and a half day deliberations over the complex and inconclusive issue of linkages between trade, development & poverty were emphases on rights based approach, importance of complementary domestic policies to realize the meaningful gains from trade and most importantly the need of a political will to achieve the ultimate goal of poverty reduction through trade liberalization.