KATHMANDU, Nov 15: Policymakers and experts of South Asia have rued the slow pace of economic integration in the region, leading to failure to create a common market for nearly 2 billion population of the region.
Speaking at the 10th South Asia Economic Summit that kicked off in Kathmandu on Tuesday, they also underscored the need for investment from each of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member country on infrastructure to integrate the regional economy. Most of the speakers also expressed frustration over the slow pace of integration.
"In past 70 years after the partition of India, we have seen regress rather than progress in terms of integration of economy in the South Asia region," Deepak Nayyar, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, said. "Political integration is zero as the SAARC summit has not been convened for last three years while economic integration is minimal. Free trade in the region is still a far cry," he added.
He also said that geopolitical rivalries in the region cannot justify the 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.
Also speaking at the summit, Rehman Sobhan, the chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue of Bangladesh, also echoed the concern over slow progress in economic integration. "Historically, we were economically most integrated economically before the Indian partition," said Sobhan, adding that that the connectivity is key to integrating the economies of the region.
Swarnim Wagle, the vice chairman of the National Planning Commission (NPC), said that the region is adopting the twin global themes of development -- equity and sustainability. "Though it may not be possible to match the lofty aspiration of common market that came with the concept of regional aspiration in this generation, we should now put in place building blocks to make that happen and augment South Asia's competitiveness," added Wagle.
Syed Naveed Qamar, a member of National Assembly of Pakistan, was of the view of continuing dialogue among the members in South Asia for resolving geopolitical rivalries to achieve the goal of economic integration.
Meanwhile, addressing the inaugural session of the summit, Minister for Finance, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, said that the upcoming elections in the country will enrich democracy while also giving momentum to economic development. He said that Nepal was ready to collaborate and cooperate with SAARC countries for trade facilitation and transit improvement activities including the process of shortening the sensitive list of import goods under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
Also speaking at the event, Lyenpo Lekey Dorji, Minister for Economic Development, Bhutan, said that if the challenges facing the integration are addressed, South Asia could be the region of economic prosperity as it offers the brightest spot of growth, hope and optimism, not only for the region but the world at large.
The Summit is being organized jointly by the Ministry of Commerce, National Planning Commission (NPC) and South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE). It will conclude on November 16. The theme of the summit is 'Deepening Economic Integration for Inclusive and Sustainable Development in South Asia'.
About 300 participants, including renowned researchers, academicians and experts across various disciplines, government officials, diplomats from the region as well as abroad will be participating in 20 sessions over three days.
The South Asia Economic Summit was launched in 2008 as a platform to discuss and analyze development challenges facing South Asia.