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Dateline

Published Date: Mar 27, 2012

REGIONAL TRADE IN SOUTH ASIA AT THE LOWEST

Pakistan is one of the least-connected nations in the world in terms of regional trade and economic cooperation and consumers here are denied benefits of trade liberalisation.
Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Research Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), raised this point at a press briefing Monday about the findings of a research study ‘Cost of economic non-cooperation to consumers in South Asia (COENCOSA).”
The study is jointly conducted by “Cuts International” and a group of like-minded organisations including SDPI with support of The Asia Foundation.
The study assesses potential benefits of opening up trade between South Asian countries mainly Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to consumers.
SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qayum Suleri and Asia Foundation’s Director of Programmes Shahid Fiaz also shared their views with the media.
Dr Suleri cited the State Bank of Pakistan’s report that says trade with South Asian countries would benefit Pakistan. Terming government’s decision of trade in local currency as a positive development, he said government’s efforts for regional trade and economic cooperation has to be supported in the larger interest of consumers.
“We need to improve our production and exports but not at the cost of our local consumers,” he underlined. He hoped Pakistan’s industry can compete if an unhindered supply of energy to industry is ensured.
Dr Vaqar said South Asia continues to be one of the poorest regions in the world. A big role in this poverty is played by non-connectedness of this region in terms of trade, transport and logistics.
He said trade agreements signed by the government should also have a consumer perspective.
He hoped the study would act as a reminder to national governments in South Asia to meet their unfulfilled commitments under Safta, adding that political considerations, no matter how strong, should not adversely impact consumer welfare in the region.
Shahid Fiaz said as poverty ratio is one of the highest in South Asia, regional countries are spending largest portions of their incomes on arms and defence. He said we need to move towards regional cooperation which will create a win-win situation for all.
“Cooperation not only means trade alone but a situation where we are spending less on defence and security,” he added.
The study also discloses that trade policies and agreements have not highlighted consumers’ gains from trade liberalisation and lack of awareness about consumer welfare gains lowers stakeholders’ expectations from intra-regional trade.