Home ›› Economy

Regional connectivity, co-op key to SA growth

Staff Correspondent
04 Nov 2023 21:10:12 | Update: 05 Nov 2023 18:59:09
Regional connectivity, co-op key to SA growth
— Courtesy Photo

The South Asian region has enormous potential and possibilities, but those are being hampered by political tensions, historical animosity and territorial disputes – resulting in a trust deficit.

There are no alternatives to regional connectivity, trade cooperation, liberal customs policy, setting up a common currency, cooperation among the South Asian nations, and bilateral or multilateral connections to achieve sustainable economic growth in this region.

Experts made the observations at the inaugural session of 14th South Asian Economic Summit (SAES) titled “Reframing South Asian Regional Cooperation in the New Context of National and Global Dimension,” held in the capital’s Hotel Sheraton on Saturday.

The summit, organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), will end on Sunday.

Researchers and stakeholders from South Asian nations, including representatives from public and private sectors, non-government organisations, civil society bodies, think tanks, academia, media and development partners from South Asia and beyond are attending the event.

Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury was present at the opening session, while Planning Minister MA Mannan was the special guest. Prof Rehman Sobhan presided over the programme.

In the opening remarks, CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said the South Asian region has been undergoing significant changes due to a number of unavoidable circumstances.

“We need to address new areas of cooperation in our region, such as the public health system, structured labour market policies, expansion and deepening of supply chains and foreign direct investment,” she added.

MA Mannan said all barriers should be removed to boost the untapped potential as only 8 per cent of trade is conducted in the region of the total trade volume in the world.

He added, “Bangladesh is working actively. We developed our infrastructure. Now, we want to move freely in our neighboring countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan.

“There had been a culture of distrust and fear that was put into us by our colonial masters. It is our duty now to see that these barriers are gradually eased so that more regional trade can happen.”

Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament, emphasised on inclusive economic growth, adopting 4IR and working together to reduce the impact of climate vulnerabilities.

She said, “We have to address eliminating poverty, ensuring decent employment opportunities, reducing inequality, achieving climate resilience and enhancing participatory governance. We need to generate knowledge and evidence and share ideas that can't be overstated.”

At the event, speakers also recommended developing infrastructure, adopting technology, improving trade policy and coming out of colonial civil service to take the economic potential.

Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, director general of the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), India said, “India should focus on regional financial integration while reducig transaction costs.”

Dr Shekhar Shah, vice chairman of the Academic Advisory Council Indian School of Public Policy (ISPP), India said, “We must not miss the chance to apply the lessons we have learned during the Covid-19 pandamic, particularly in terms of cross-border cooperation.

“This is viral for certification, accreditation, and addressing the increasing demand for higher education are crucial. Similarly, public health cooperation remains a priority.”

The papers presented at the summit stated that though South Asia accounts only 4 per cent of the world's surface area, the region is home to nearly 1.9 billion people, about one-fourth of the global population.

Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank Dhaka Office, said, “Currency cooperation reduces transaction costs, exchange rate risks and reduces dependence which leads to greater economic integration.”

Founding chairman of CPD Prof Rehman Sobhan said, “South Asia has seen remarkable changes such as GDP growth, macro-economic management, poverty reduction, and human development.

“As members of South Asian civil society, we have an added responsibility to maintain and advance the concept and evolving agendas for cooperation. The world’s geostrategic changes have impacted on South Asian cooperation, so we have to work at a multilateral level for sustainable growth and development.”

South Asia has been growing at a remarkable rate and has played an integral part in reducing the number of people in the world living under $1.9 per day. Yet, this persistent growth has slowed down within the region with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic as countries have experienced sluggish growth and a decline in per capita income.

Sri Lanka central bank Governor Dr P Nandalal Weerasinghe said, “The South Asian region has consistently lagged behind other sub-regions and other regional blocs due to a lack of integration.

“The region possesses immense potential in terms of its large population, rich resource endowment, geographical location and even common cultural heritage and historical roots. To create sustainable growth for each or our economies we have to tackle climate change, pandemic, technological disruption, and forging linkages.”

According to the World Bank, about 42 per cent of the population in South Asia lives under $3.65 per day as of 2021. Furthermore, most people classified as extremely poor are from South Asia.

On the positive side, there is evidence of a declining trend compared to earlier decades.

Dr Ishrat Husain, former governor, state Bank of Pakistan; Ambassador Durga Bhattarai, former foreign secretary, Nepal; Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, director general, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), India; Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan; Dr Paras Kharel, executive director, South Asian Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), Nepal; and Dr Dushni Weerakoon, executive director, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) also spoke at the function among others.