South Asia can eliminate poverty within generation

Tokyo, April 4:

South Asia has the chance to eliminate poverty within a generation if it can sustain strong growth, improve its infrastructure and reduce wealth inequalities, a World Bank economist said today.

Rapid economic growth in recent years along with a significant reduction in poverty and improvements in education and healthcare suggest a bright outlook, said John Roome, the Bank’s operations director for the South Asia region. “These positive trends give us a lot of optimism that indeed — if certain key challenges can be addressed — poverty can be significantly reduced, if not eliminated, within a generation in South Asia.”

“But there are still some very significant challenges that need to be addressed,” added Roome, speaking to reporters during a trip to Tokyo. “The first one is to sustain and accelerate the rates of growth. In order for that to happen, one of the key bottlenecks is going to be infrastructure.”

Governance concerns and wealth inequalities were also problems, he said. “While there’s been strong growth in South Asia across almost every single one of the countries, there have been big differences in terms of where that growth has taken place.”

Meanwhile, fresh from sealing a free trade pact with the US, South Korea wants to reach a similar agreement with India by the end of the year, the South Korean foreign ministry said today.

It said foreign minister Song Min-Soon and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh agreed to push for a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) at a meeting in New Delhi yesterday.

Song also met foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee on the sidelines of a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which Seoul was attending as an observer.

“At the meetings, Minister Song and the Indian officials shared an understanding to work for conclusion of CEPA negotiations within the year,” a ministry statement said. Five rounds of CEPA negotiations have been held since March 2006. A fresh four-day round began in Seoul yesterday. CEPA seeks to promote trade, investment and economic cooperation by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Song and his Indian counterparts also agreed to arrange a visit by the Indian prime minister “at a time convenient to both sides,” the statement said. The Indian side also expressed its support for a peaceful settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue.

The US-South Korea free trade agreement was reached on Monday after 10 months of tough negotiations. South Korea has also signed FTAs with Chile, Singapore, the ASEAN and the European Free Trade Association linking Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

Seoul will start negotiations on an FTA with the EU by June.