Integrated South Asia can achieve SDGs

Regional experts say

Staff Correspondent

11 December, 2019 12:00 AM printer

More cooperation among South Asian nations in trade, investment and other key areas can help them attain SDGs, regional analysts said. 

At the same time, the regional integration, particularly in trade with more liberalisation, can be a new engine of growth of the region in the changing global context, they observed.

The observation came at a policy dialogue on ‘Regional Cooperation for Sustainable Development in South Asia’ held in Dhaka on Tuesday. Analysts from South Asian countries attended the event.

Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and UN Economic and Social Commission for Asian and the Pacific (ESCAP) jointly organised the day-long event at BIISS auditorium.

“South Asian countries have many shared challenges like food security, malnutrition and climate change. More coordinated actions are required to address the challenges,” Dr Nagesh Kumar, ESCAP Director for South and South-West office in New Delhi, said.

Citing a recent evaluation report, he said South Asian countries are lagging in 15 goals out of 17 goals of SDGs.

Despite having huge potentials, the present state of regional cooperation in South Asia is very poor in contrast to other regions like South East Asia, the regional experts said.  

Intra-regional trade is only 3 percent in South Asia whereas it is 55 percent in Southeast Asia, they mentioned.

Lack of or low level of cooperation in the region is responsible for losing $55 billion of trade every year, an ESCAP study suggests.

The analysts identified poor transport connectivity, apathy among the policymakers, protectionism, tariff, non-tariff and para-tariff barriers as the main reasons for low regional integration.

All the South Asian countries need to work on some mutually benefiting areas so that regional cooperation can be enhanced more, according to them.

BIMSTEC Secretary General Shahidul Islam said despite impressive economic growth, South Asia is still home to one-third of world’s poor.

Intra-regional trade under the BIMSTEC can ensure inclusive growth in the region, he said, putting emphasis on people-to-people contact in the region.

“No South Asian nations would be able to achieve SDGs without aligning themselves,” he noted.

Speaking at a working session, noted Bangladeshi economist Dr Selim Raihan pointed out that South Asian countries are not focusing on the new global trend.

Regional cooperation will play more important role when many South Asian countries will lose market preferences after graduation from LDCs status. 

He blamed regional policymaker for not having appetite for regional cooperation for which most of the regional  organisations are not active.

Bangladesh is creating a good number of special economic zones where regional investors can invest for getting mutual benefits, he suggested.

Sri Lankan researcher Dr Athulha Senarantne repented that South Asian nations usually tend to share happiness; not bad moments.

A common prosperity in the region could be ensured with cooperation in agriculture, disaster management, climate change adaptation and a lot of areas, he remarked.

Greater regional integration could create a burgeoning platform for South Asian countries in the global market, he thinks. 

An expert from Nepal, Chanchal Sarkar, called for revitalising their own commitments of South Asian countries alongside removing tariff and non-tariff barriers. “Let us go back to our own commitments.”

Terming US-China trade conflict “a new cold war“, another expert from Nepal Dr Posh Raj Pandey observed that South Asia now does not have any choice other than more integration in this changing global context.