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Business Recorder

Published Date: Sep 12, 2012

FIFTH SOUTH ASIA ECONOMIC SUMMIT OPENS: SPEAKERS CALL FOR REGIONAL CONNECTIVITY, TRADE LIBERALISATION AMONG SOUTH ASIAN STATES

Speakers at an economic summit Tuesday called for regional connectivity and trade liberalisation among the South Asian countries, besides bringing about reforms in investment regime and putting a co-operative mechanism in place to manage natural resources for the effective regional co-operation.

They were speaking at the three-day 5th South Asia Economic Summit that opened here with over 114 foreign delegates including ministers from South Asian and Saarc countries. The summit is discussing issues relating to South Asian economic outlook, impacts of global financial crisis, regional trade, energy co-operation, transport connectivity, trade normalisation and engaging youth for economic growth. The summit’s recommendations would be submitted to Saarc Secretariat ahead of the upcoming annual Saarc Summit to be held in Nepal this year.

The speakers in their addresses pointed out that trade alone was not enough for deeper regional integration but it has to be complimented with reforms related to investment, a co-operative mechanism to manage and utilise natural resources such as water and co-operation between regulatory bodies with promotion of supply chains. Speaking at the inaugural session, Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar called upon the South Asian governments to look at the disconnection between macro and micro economic performance so that they can realistically address growing poverty and improve social sector.

He urged the participants to offer advice to their respective governments on trade in services and agricultural goods, intra regional movement of people and trade in areas such as energy, health, education, communication science and technology.

The minister said that it will remain a challenge to compete with other regions of the world, unless we fight poverty, illiteracy and poor health standards in South Asia and complement this struggle with enabling environment for businesses to generate employment.

On the trade front, he underscored the need of taking concrete steps for reducing barriers to trade in South Asia and also called for slashing duties on intra-regional trade to unprecedented levels.

Stressing the need to understand South Asia’s perspective on post-2015 development forecast, he said that in a region with regular natural disasters in the form of droughts, floods and earthquakes, it is now time to realise that we have not paid much attention to address the impacts of climate change in the region.

Earlier, SDPI Executive Director, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri in his welcome speech praised the incumbent political leaderships of India and Pakistan for recent landmark initiatives such as new visa regime, MFN status to India by Pakistan and Indian decision allowing investment by Pakistani investors.
“We can now see new clouds of hope amidst years of mistrust”, he said and also hoped that the new agreements and advancement on issues relating to development would herald an optimistic future in the region. He, however, pointed out it could not happen without an inclusive and pro-poor growth that benefits all citizens addressing economic disparity within and between countries.

Suhrab Hossain, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Pakistan said that South Asian intra-regional trade stands at mere five percent as against 25-30 percent in other regional blocs. He emphasised the need for opening up of markets, reducing tariff and other barriers which will benefit the entire region.

He opined that regional co-operation has paid huge dividend to counties in other parts of the world and South Asia should now realise that co-operation rather than conflict is the preferred way for progress in the region. Rajiva Wijesinha, Member of Parliament, Sri Lanka said that many developed countries were pushing for freeing capital movements but they are denying freer movement of labour across the world. He emphasised on developing human resource through quality education, saying that capacity building will greatly increase our productivity resulting in positive economic growth.

Madhu Raman Acharya, Former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal said that Saarc has to reinvent itself to yield results as the region cannot be run on auto pilot. “South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions yet one of the least economically integrated”, he maintained.

Mahendra P Lama, Vice Chancellor, Central University of Sikkim, India said that the dream of South Asian community could only be realised if they can transform their perception about borders from security centric perspective to a hub of socio-economic opportunities.

Nagesh Kumar of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific highlighted that South Asia has proved to be the most resilient region despite the global financial crisis. He pointed out that several countries of the region have made impressive gains in achieving MDGs and enhancing human development, but the region also faces several challenges particularly in the post 2015 development agenda. Debapriya Bhatachariya, Fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh stated that the post-2015 development agenda is being set by a consultative process wider than the one for setting up the Millennium Development Goals.