South Asia Economic Summit kicks off

Kathmandu, November 14

Though South Asian countries have been talking about economic integration and shared prosperity, lack of political desire has been taking the issue of integration and improved connectivity towards regression.

Policymakers, academicians and experts laid emphasis on breaking the barriers on trade, transit, connectivity and chipping in required investment to develop the common infrastructure to advance South Asia region as a vibrant economic region.

South Asian countries have envisioned entering into customs union by 2020 through gradual move from the preferential trading arrangements, free trade area. However, nothing substantial happened in the last three decades. Meanwhile, the East Asian countries have made dramatic leaps in the period of 20 years, according to Rehman Sobhan, chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh.

Speaking at the 10th South Asia Economic Summit that kicked off in the Capital today, experts and policymakers have underscored the need of investment from each of the member country in infrastructure to integrate the economies of the South Asia region. Most of the speakers also expressed frustration over the slow pace of integration.

“In the past 70 years, after the partition of India, we have seen regression rather than progress in terms of integration of economy in South Asia,” said Deepak Nayyar, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. “The political integration is zero as the SAARC summit has not been convened for the last three years while economic integration is minimum. Free trade in the region is still a far cry.”

He also said that regional connectivity is the issue of economic advancement for individual countries, and that geopolitical rivalries are insufficient explanations for failure to deeply integrate the economy of the region. “We can blame politics. But it is not a sufficient explanation since institutional framework works only as enabling factor, not a causal factor for integration,” said Nayyar.

Swarnim Wagle, vice chairman of the National Planning Commission, said that the region is adopting the twin global themes of development — equity and sustainability.

“Though it may not be possible in this generation to match the lofty aspiration of common market that came with the concept of regional aspiration, we should now put in place the building blocks for that to happen and augment South Asia’s competitiveness,” added Wagle.

Syed Naveed Qamar, a member of National Assembly of Pakistan, was of the view to continue dialogue among the members in South Asia to resolve geopolitical rivalries to achieve the goal of economic integration.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki said the upcoming elections in the country will enrich democracy while also giving momentum to economic development. He opined trade facilitation and transit improvement activities, including process to shorten list of sensitive import goods under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), show Nepal’s readiness to collaborate and cooperate with South Asian economies.

The South Asia Economic Summit was launched in 2008 as a platform to discuss and analyse development challenges facing South Asia.