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Dhaka Tribune

Experts: Strengthen South Asian institutions for a more interconnected region

They also urged the countries to accelerate cooperation by going beyond the geopolitical rivalry

Update : 06 Nov 2023, 02:01 PM

Experts on Sunday said with unprecedented challenges there are opportunities South Asia can harness and there is untapped potential that can boost South Asian economic growth.

They were speaking at the closing session of the two-day-long 14th South Asian Economic Summit, the largest economic summit in South Asia, organized by the Center for Policy Dialogue on Sunday.

Rehman Sobhan, a prominent economist and founding chairman of the CPD, said that there are sceptics and concerns about regional cooperation in South Asia. 

“However, the South Asian region was the most integrated region in the post-colonial period, even more than Europe. An ordinary citizen could move here and there freely in South Asia,” he added.

Now that cooperation is all but gone the concept of an integrated South Asian is still alive in people’s minds.

In this regard, civil society integration, and an open marketplace is needed and the professional groups, chartered accountant, human rights activists, and gender activists, all should be working together.

He also said that monetary cooperation could be conceived by identifying all roadblocks. 

He urged to add value to all the suggestions placed on the table which will pave the way to cooperation. 

“There are some negativities in the regard of the free trade area and duty-free access, which should be addressed to build a more integrated South Asia.

A particular institution within the all-partner institutions can take the responsibility to identify the issues, he added. 

He also said that the Saarc is moribund and should work together to find the agenda for integration in South Asia. 

“All the issues should be addressed collectively and the issues related to the Saarc and other entities should also be also addressed,” he added.

National leaders should take the responsibility to recreate integration. In this regard, the advocacy role, and future agenda of Saarc are important, he added. 

Stefan Liller, representative resident of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the climate crisis is increasing and posing a threat to the countries of South Asia as 800 million people of this region are at risk.

“Food and water scarcity, flash floods, urgent issues and Bangladesh has also faced them recently,” he added, saying that these challenges are interconnected and effective climate action beyond the border is mandatory.

He also said that macroeconomic stability is also important and, in this regard, enhancing regional cooperation and integration is important.

“Robust economic framework, global value chain, job opportunity, reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers are important along with renewable sources, cross-border partnership for carbon neutrality and energy security,” he added.

Moreover, he also urged to bring women into the digital movement. 

He said that investment in health and education, and innovative policy solutions will help to eradicate extreme poverty.

“Integrated regional network, data sharing, effective regional response mechanism, normalized political sensitivity, P2P connection to cultural and historical ties, and multi-sectoral agenda are important,” he added, saying that UNDP is always delighted to work in South Asia. 

Floren Helen of the German Embassy said that the different kinds of regional entities in the region like Saarc, and BIMSTEC are competing with each other. 

“Joint understanding among all entities is important to make them functional and political effort and leadership are also important in this regard,” he added.

He also said that the potential and actual implementation needs cooperation among multiple stakeholders including the private sector, academia, civil society and political leaders.

They should work together by going beyond their different mindsets to become an economic powerhouse.

He also said that the development partners will contribute and cooperate in this process.

“Fostering economic growth, the unhealthy competition must be overcome,” he added, saying that the minimum wages and living wages for the workers must be ensured along with investment in education, knowledge, innovation, and technology.

The countries of this region may accept joint educational programmes, he added.  

Irosha Cooray said that Seas will contribute to focus and partnering among the countries of the region. 

“New development brings new challenges. The Saarc is firmly committed to collective development by overcoming these challenges,” she added.

Dr Paras Karil said that it is true that the Saarc is stagnant but it is premature to say that it has been buried.

Still, the organization has the potential to accelerate regional cooperation and economic integration among the countries,” he added. 

He also urged the countries to accelerate cooperation by going beyond the geopolitical rivalry.

“There are challenges and also prospects, we should go forward by keeping it in our minds,” he added.

Sachin Chaturvedi said that creating a South Asian identity is important and, in this regard, revival of the Saarc is significant. 

“By riding on new dynamics and progress, the region should move on,” he added, saying that partnership in the banking and finance sector is important. 

He urged joint study to promote hardcore economic and social prospects.

He also said to put more discussion on DFQF perceptions based on factual studies and leadership. 

“Emphasis is also important on good governance and democracy as economic results are good where it is present. Moreover, gap analysis for the SDG is important. Value chain, digital public infrastructure and digital public governance are also important,” he added.

In the plenary session titled “Value Chain and Foreign Direct Investment,” the panelists said that South Asia does not have adequate integration in the global value chain due to the high cost associated with trading and it is important to reduce the cost of trading. 

The advantage that South Asia had of providing affordable labour and resources is slowly fading away as these are becoming expensive. Therefore, there is a need for more FDI and the idea is that FDI and GVC can reinforce each other. 

This is because FDI can provide capital-constrained countries with the required funds, enabling them to be a part of the GVC. 

Instead of relying on FDI, it is rather important to facilitate the growth of local SMEs and CSMEs and rely on local investors, they said.

The prime role of the Saarc Chambers of Commerce should be to mediate between the private sector, comprising not just the large industries but also SMEs, and the government to enhance the value chain in this region. 

Moreover, South Asia needs a predictable taxation policy, and political stability, and the countries within the region need to be friendlier with each other.

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