Political will and greater collaboration between countries needed to materialize South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), experts urge at 8th Eight South Asia Economic Summit
ISLAMABAD – South Asian leadership should demonstrate a strong political will to fully operationalize South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) by evolving standard trade procedures, as it is the only way to increase the volume of trade from stagnant five per cent to a considerable level.
This was the consensus developed at the 8th South Asia Economic Summit titled ‘Regional Cooperation of Sustainable Development in South Asia’ here on Monday. The conference was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). Economic experts, thought leaders, and development practitioners from all over the world, especially from South Asia, are participating in this two-day summit.
Speaking at a session on Corridors for Development Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, Government of Pakistan Mr. Ahsan Iqbal said there is hope towards melting of ice between India and Pakistan following both the Prime Ministers meeting at COP21 earlier this week”, and the subsequent meeting of the security advisors of both the countries in Bangkok.
He highlighted the reasons for which 80% of the Pakistan China Economic Corridor’s $46 Billion investment is focused on power and energy projects, adding that Pakistan’s investment lies in increasing regional cooperation via economic and development corridors. Corridors are the future for South Asian countries, he said, which contribute to only 3% of the global GDP and 40% of their population lives below the poverty line.
Mr Haroon Sharif of The World Bank, Islamabad spoke on the CASA 1000 project with Central Asian countries and of PCEC to pave the way for regional development. He recommended that economic ties be embedded into countries foreign policy mandate.
Mr. Nagesh Kumar of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP), India stressed the need for cooperation especially in the post global economic crisis where the growth rate of world trade has fallen substantially from nearly 10% to below 2%.
Notable dignitaries present at the summit were Ambassador Halil Ibrahim Akca, the Secretary-General of the Economic Cooperation Organization and former Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, Chairman Board of Governors at SDPI.
Earlier, Chairman of Board of Investment, Pakistan Mr Miftah Ismail said that governments and civil society have a major role to play in the future of South Asia. He added that mega projects like Turkmenistan–Afghanistan Pakistan India (TAPI) and Central Asia and South Asia (CASA) are being given the highest priority by Government of Pakistan.
Welcoming the participants of the conference, SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said that the summit is a perfect representation of South-South and North-South cooperation. South Asia is a region with multiple interstate and intrastate conflicts; and finding an opportunity for public thought leaders to objectively discuss the regional issues is a big success, he said.
“We have been long on words and theories but short on actions and implementation. The time to act has been fast passing us by but all we have done so far is to wait, procrastinate and delay.”
Dr Rajan Bhattarai, Member of Constituent Assembly and Legislative Parliament, Nepal highlighted the role of economy in terms of sustainable development and enhanced cooperation in South Asian context.
He said SAARC has become the casualty due to the nature of relations between India and Pakistan.
Mr Suraj Vaidya, the President-In-Charge of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, stressed the need for removal of trade barriers for meaningful progress in the region.
Speaking at the inaugural plenary titled ‘10 years of SAFTA and Way Forward’, Mr Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Sri Lanka pointed out the lack of regional trade as an impediment to future cooperation. He said that SAFTA will become operationalized until 2020.
Mr Martin Rama, The World Bank’s Chief Economist of South Asia Region said that South Asia can build upon past successes such as the Indus Water Treaties as well as common culture to overcome trust deficit in the region.
Mr Sonam Tashi from Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Bhutan said that the SAARC region’s comparative advantage needs to be utilized for the benefit of the people of the region.
Mr Rajan Sudesh Ratna, Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Bangkok, emphasized the need to reduce duties in SAFTA to zero and
liberalization of services and investment in order for economic integration of south Asia.
Mr M. Syeduzzaman, the former Finance Minister of Bangladesh, concluded the session by reaffirming the thoughts offered by other speakers in terms of the need for further cooperation and trust development amongst SAARC nations.
Earlier, four research publications were launched by the chairman of Board of Investment. They included ‘Making Growth Inclusive Just and Sustainable in South Asia’, ‘Towards South Asia Economic Union’, ‘Special Issue of South Asia Economic Journal’, and ‘Towards Regional Integration in South Asia; Promoting Trade Facilitation and Connectivity.