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Business Recorder

Published Date: Dec 12, 2012

SPEAKERS FOR ENHANCING REGIONAL TRADE AMONG SOUTH ASIAN COUNTRIES

Speakers at a seminar have underlined the need for enhancing regional trade among the South Asian countries, saying that the region is rich in resources and yet it is facing significant stress and shortage in water, food and energy sectors. They were addressing the fifteenth Three-Day Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) conference titled ‘Sustainable Development in South Asia: Shaping the Future’, which started here on Tuesday.

Federal Minister for Defence Syed Naveed Qamar acknowledged that trade among the South Asian countries could help alleviate poverty in the region for which people-to-people contact was vital. “We need to look into deeper regional integration whereby not just the merchandise but our people particularly youth and communities can interact with each,” he added.

“This is the way it used to be some three centuries back and it is time now that we should learn from our histories where mutual respect and honour allowed us to co-exist and prosper”, said the defence minister. The minister said that today South Asia was the least connected region in the world and its connectivity indicators were even poorer than Sub-Saharan Africa.

“If we continue to be as distant as we are today, our children may never be able to interact, talk, meet and play with their children in the neighbourhoods. Such a lost opportunity will be synonymous to a youth stolen in the name of history’s baggage,” he added.

He said that Pakistan was undertaking a foreign policy in the new emerging realities in the best interests of the people of Pakistan and development and prosperity in the region. “We value our relationship with the powers in Asia. Pakistan has played an active role in SAARC for the formalisation of the processes towards setting up a food bank and supporting other regional arrangements including South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), he said adding that Pakistan’s terms with India were improving fast.

Speaking as keynote speaker on ‘national diversities and regional dimensions,’ former Information Minister, Javed Jabbar said that the region needs to bank upon commonalties and needs to think and act collectively. He argued that decision taken today will directly affect the future of South Asia, adding that the ‘future is what unfolds today.’ He identified seven elements essential in shaping the future of South Asia, including environmental security; economic equity; moderating consumption; democratic reforms for greater accountability and improved governance; respect for all religions and ethnicities; military restraints by India, Pakistan and other countries to strengthen cross border peace and civil supremacy in the region, and lastly greater social stability. He also suggested the introduction of a ‘Green Budget’ by the Finance Minister before the presentation of the fiscal budget in the parliament.

Dr Abid Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI said let us imagine what the world would look like in 2030. By all predictions, it would be a radically different place from what it is today. For instance, the number of human beings would rise from 7.1 billion to about 8.5 billion; the percentage of people living in the urban areas would increase from 50 percent to about 60 percent; the number of those falling in the middle income category would expand from one billion to over two billion. And all this together would dramatically increase the demand for resources – food, water, and energy.

He said that the Conference is not just about the future. It is also about how over the last 15 years this annual event has assumed the highest and most important place in the development calendar of Pakistan. And even more important is that how the SDPI has survived, and successfully delivered on its fundamental objectives, in an environment hostile to institutionalisation, vulnerable to the whims of policymakers and dependent on the changing donor policies and priorities in Pakistan.

Earlier, Dr Saeed Shafqat, chairman Board of Governors, SDPI welcomed participants of the conference and said, ‘For a prosperous and secure future, South Asia needs to move away from an ‘economy of war’ towards an ‘economy of peace’. Hence, an inclusive and equitable economic growth must be ensured through redistribution of power structures, he added.

In the concurrent session on ‘Will media be a catalyst for change’, Badar Alam, said that the government and other influentials subsidised the media through advertisements. However, he said the size of expenditure to run the electronic media was very enormous which could not be met only through advertisements. There must be some other source other than advertisements, he said.

Panellists at the session ‘Will the media be a catalyst for change?’ discussed the role of the media in stimulating change in society. They unanimously agreed that forms and formats of media are changing rapidly. Mohammad Malick from Dunya News was of the view that the media is a catalyst for change, but it depends upon which side of the picture is being looked at. Farrukh Pitafi from News One said that even if there are laws regarding the media they are not relevant and rational.”

Moneeza Hashmi, President, Commonwealth Broadcast Association said that over the years, radio channels have mushroomed providing information and entertainment. Badar Alam, Editor Herald said that “journalism is going to get worse before it gets better.” Fahad Hussain from Waqt News talked of the role of advertisements in influencing media content and maintained that often the media is used by certain groups through their financial influence.

During the session on public financing of education in Pakistan, Hamza Abbas Research Analyst at SDPI said that public expenditure on education is directly linked with economic growth and tax revenue collections. Zohair Zaidi from Oxfam GB said that donors must make aid flows more predictable and reliable. Tassaduq Rasul, Country Director Action Aid Islamabad said that to improve education, it is essential to build an accountability mechanism, tracking systems and education management concepts.