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The Nation

Published Date: Sep 12, 2012

S ASIA ECONOMIC SUMMIT BEGINS

The 5th South Asia Economic Summit kicked off Tuesday saying trade alone is not enough for deeper regional integration, it has to be complimented with reforms related to investment, a cooperative mechanism to manage and utilize natural resources such as water and cooperation between regulatory bodies and promotion of supply chains.

“While governments are currently more focused on trade agenda, it remains the responsibility of civil society to keep reminding the governments of such issues as well which in no manner are less important than trade,” cautioned the speakers. The 3-day summit is going to discuss issues relating to South Asia economic outlook, impacts of global financial crisis, regional trade, energy cooperation, transport connectivity, trade normalization and engaging youth and Diaspora for economic growth. Over 114 foreign delegates, including ministers are participating in the summit. Recommendations of the summit would be submitted to SAARC Secretariat ahead of the upcoming annual SAARC Summit to be held in Nepal this year.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the Summit, Federal Minister of Defence, 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 asked the scholars attending the summit to offer advice to the governments on trade in services and agricultural goods, intra regional movement of people and trade in areas such as energy.

“Unless we fight poverty, illiteracy and poor health standards in South Asia and complement this struggle with enabling environment for businesses to generate employment – it will remain a challenge to compete with other regions of the world,” the minister concluded. He said on the trade front, we have taken concrete steps in reducing barriers to trade in South Asia and duties on intra-regional trade are being slashed to unprecedented levels.

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

In his welcome speech, SDPI Executive Director, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri 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.

He said, “We can now see new clouds of hope amidst years of mistrust.”

He hoped that new agreements and advancement on issues relating to development would herald an optimistic future in South Asia. However, it cannot happen without an inclusive and pro-poor growth that benefits to all citizens addressing economic disparity within and between countries.

Rajiva Wijesinha, Member of Parliament, Sri Lanka said, many developed countries are pushing for freeing capital movements but are denying freer movement of labor across the world. He emphasized on developing human resource through quality education and said capacity building will greatly increase our productivity resulting in positive economic growth.

Madhu Raman Acharya, Former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal said, SAARC has to reinvent itself to yield results as the region cannot be run on auto pilot as we are doing it now. South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions yet one of the least economically integrated, he said.

Suhrab Hossain, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Pakistan said, South Asian intra-regional trade stands at mere 5 per cent as against 25-30 percent in other regional blocs. “We need to speed up opening up of markets, reduce tariff and other barriers which will benefit all of us,” he added. He was of the view that regional cooperation has paid huge dividend to counties in other parts of the world and South Asia should now realize that cooperation rather than conflict is the preferred way for progress in the region.

Mahendra P. Lama, Vice Chancellor, Central University of Sikkim, India said the dream of South Asian community could only be realized if they can transform their perception about borders from security centric perspective to a hub of socio-economic opportunities. He also urged on enlarging and diversifying export basket by putting non-traditional goods such as energy on the list.

Talking in a plenary on the first day Debapriya Bhatachariya, Distinguished 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. He highlighted that productive employment, equity and empowerment would be critical factors determining post-2015 development agenda.Chairing the plenary, Nagesh Kumar of United Nations 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. While several countries of the region have made impressive gains in achieving MDGs and enhancing human development, the region also faces several challenges particularly in the post 2015 development agenda, he said. Khalid Malik Director of UNHDRO spoke on the post-2015 Human Development framework. He highlighted that post-2015 would be a different world due to the rise of global south, context specific pragmatic approaches followed by different countries to pursue human development, deepening globalization and changing power relations. Priya Shyamsundar of SANDEE highlighted that cross-border learning can add fuel to South Asia’s development as a regional block. Yeshey Selden of Druk Holding Investments, Bhutan spoke about gross national happiness which attempts to incorporate all aspects of sustainable development such as equity and governance along with ecological values. She said development must be in harmony with nature which has enough resources for all of us.