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Abdul Rasheed Azad

Business Recorder

Published Date: Dec 11, 2015

Experts advocate free trade among South Asian countries

Speakers at a seminar on Thursday called for enhancing trade volume among the South Asian countries, saying a free trade among the regional nations will help benefit all the countries. 
Speaking on the topic of ‘trade policies in South Asia’, Dr Hafeez A Pasha, Indian High Commissioner Dr TCA Raghavan, Dr Shakeel Rammay, Senator Shibli Faraz, the Nepalese High Commissioner and others deplored that the current volume of trade in the region was just 5 percent while it had the capacity to grow to the tune of $200 billion per annum. 
Pasha said that the economies of all the countries in the region were agriculture based but India was protecting textile and agriculture sector with providing enormous subsidies. According to him this was discouraging other countries especially Pakistan to remove tariff barriers on Indian goods. However, he supported regional trade, saying although trade balance would remain in India’s favour, Pakistan would save up to $1.5 billion per annum if it started importing goods from India, which it was importing from other countries. 
Speaking on the occasion Dr TCA Raghavan, Indian High Commissioner, said that there was a vast potential for intra-regional trade between all the South Asian countries, adding that Pakistan and India could reopen many closed trade links such as Mirpur to Rajistan. He said that seasonal trade would be a step forward between India and Pakistan trade ties. 
Speaking at a panel on ‘water, sustainability, equity and security’, Khalid Mohtadullah, Senior Advisor of International Water Management Institute, expressed his concerns over lack of water policy and said that the issues of climate change and water management must urgently be addressed. Former Information Minister Nisar A Memon said SAARC needed to play a crucial role in sustainable use of water at regional level and suggested to add it to its main agenda. He also said that data sharing held the key for sustainable water use and that Pakistan had been lacking a water policy since its inception. 
Speaking at a panel on ‘role of development partners in a changing South Asia’, Bernard Francois, Minister Counsellor of European Union Delegation to Pakistan, said that political will was absolutely central to development, and that people-to-people contacts were imperative in this respect. 
Haroon Sharif from the World Bank said that East Asia had benefited from regional cooperation. He pointed out that huge losses in GDP were incurred due to unemployment. At political level, it was desirable to collaborate on regional level but implementation was also crucial, he added. Werner Liepech from Asian Development Bank said that the bank was taking measures towards knowledge-based development. 
Philipp Kauppert, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), said that "we now need to move from a transactional approach to a transformative one. In a country like Pakistan and in the current social context, we need to push Vision 2025 and try to move towards a stronger coalition for change." Renate Pors, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Netherlands, said that in South Asia, development cooperation had been influenced by many events in the world. 
Dr Anindya Chatterjee, Asia Regional Director, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), India, expressed his concerns over development assistance programmes, as partners were pulling out of commitments recently. Speaking at a panel on ‘data and evidence for informed policy making in social sector’, Saadiya Razzaq, Team Leader for the Pakistan Data Portal Project and SDPI Senior Research Fellow, talked about the process and need of using data in Pakistan’s policy making process. 
Dr Pervez Tahir, former chief economist, who was part of the MDGs planning committee in 2000, said that at the time of setting these goals, the baseline data available was from 1990 when the poverty rate stood at 26 percent – hence according to the MDGs of reducing poverty rate by 50 percent, the target for 2015 was 13 percent. However the data was tempered to show a decline base and by 2013-14, Pakistan’s official poverty rate was 8 percent. 
Nasir Amin from Academy of Educational Planning and Management said Pakistan had the second largest population of out of school children in the world at 6.4 million, which meant that "we have yet to achieve the MDGs of zero primary level out of school children. As we move towards SDGs, Pakistan is almost ready to sign the agreement and commit to zero secondary level out of school children." Arif Cheema from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics said that Pakistan was divided into 49,000 urban and 150,000 rural blocks, which helped create scientific basis. 
Dr Nadeem Javed, Chief Economist, said open and big data was now changing dynamics of political reality and swaying the policy making process towards data rather than perception. Mosharraf Zaidi, political analyst and Campaign Director, Alif Ailaan, said that "we should contextualize private and public stimuli in terms of the whole country, which will help remove feelings of negativity and use this data to realize our responsibilities to self and society."