12 September, 2012

Regional Connectivity in South Asia urged

5th South Asia Economic Summit: “South Asia is one of the fastest growing yet one of the least economically integrated region”


Sana Jamal

ISLAMABAD – Closer cooperation in the fields of trade, public diplomacy, and communication was advocated at the 5th South Asia Economic Summit which began in Islamabad on Tuesday. Speakers believed that, Pakistan and India can play a leading role for deeper regional integration as the two major nations of South Asia,
Over 114 foreign delegates, including ministers, economists and civil society members are participating in the 3-day summit that focuses on issues relating to South Asia economic outlook, impacts of global financial crisis, regional trade, energy cooperation, transport connectivity, and economic growth. The summit is being jointly sponsored by Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute in collaboration with its regional partner think tanks.
Speaking at the inaugural session, Syed Naveed Qamar, Pakistan Federal Minister for Defence, stressed that “South Asian nations should focus on the issues that unite us rather than what divides us.” He said on the trade front, the region has taken concrete steps in reducing barriers but 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 address the impacts of climate change in this region.”
Speaking at the summit, Mahendra P. Lama, Vice Chancellor, Central University of Sikkim, India maintained that “the dream of South Asian community could only be realized if we can transform our perception about borders from security centric perspective to a hub of socio-economic opportunities.” 
He suggested that India and Pakistan can lead the region by initiating several trade interventions, relieve in visa policies and introducing a smart border plan.

Rajiva Wijesinha, Member of Parliament, Sri Lanka, emphasized on developing human resource through quality education and said “capacity building will greatly increase our productivity resulting in positive economic growth.”

“What South Asian region requires is breaking of barriers of mindset,” proposed Madhu Raman Acharya, former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal. “SAARC has to reinvent itself to yield results as the region cannot be run on autopilot” as we are doing it now. “South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions yet one of the least economically integrated,” he pointed out, adding that “We cannot have growth without ensuring energy sustainability.”

Suhrab Hossain, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Pakistan noted that South Asian intra-regional trade stood at mere 5 per cent as against 25-30 percent in other regional blocs. He urged: “We need to speed up opening up of markets, reduce tariff and other barriers which will benefit all of us”.

In his welcome address, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, SDPI Executive Director, eulogized the current leaderships of Pakistan and India for recent landmark initiatives such as new visa regime, MFN status to India by Pakistan that would herald an optimistic future in South Asia. The economic summit, also termed as South Asia Davos conference, would frame the recommendations for the upcoming Summit of SAARC to be held in Nepal.