Region at Cross Roads- Towards a closer South Asia

September 4, 2013

South Asia represents a thriving trade and economic hub. While GDP, industrial output, and consumption have soared across the region over the past decade, power, water, and transport systems have struggled to keep pace. Despite significant growth, the reality is that South Asia is a region at a crossroads. Its continued growth relies on deeper regional cooperation and integration from a policy perspective, and market-driven intervention by businesses that aspire to expand their footprint across the national borders. This expansion is significantly restricted by weak regional trade cooperation and corresponding infrastructure support to enable this to happen.

Improved trade cooperation and significant integration depends deeply on the policy makers and governments. Perhaps the key is also to look beyond historically complex relationships and look at the region with a more open mind and in a more strategic long-term manner. Like the panel experts this afternoon stated, integration is no longer an option, it is a necessity for the region, at this point.

Another significant area that needs to be perhaps examined carefully is the understanding of growth. Across the world, including our very own South Asian countries, GDP has remained to be a strong indicator for success. All of the countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others have seen impressive numbers and “sustained growth”. But, GDP is a complex arena- it measures income, but not equality, it measures growth, but not destruction, and it ignores values like social cohesion and the environment. It does not measure household economy, capital depreciation, economic facilities, governance and others, all of which are major characteristics of the region.

In Bangladesh, for example, we have seen impressive and sustained GDP of 6%, but it remains to be significantly constrained by poor infrastructure, low levels of trade, regulatory and governance issues. The question comes here, should we continue to be comfortable with the “sustained and impressive” growth rates or look beyond this indicator?

A second area of discussion which came strongly in the expert panel discussion of SAES 2013 was the issue of connectivity- infrastructure needs.

Over the years, attempts have been made in improving infrastructure systems within the region through transport corridor planning, infrastructure improvements in the areas of water, transport, power and others. Further planning is in place through Public-Private-Partnership options among others, but the question remains- how can we ensure that these infrastructure facilities are in planned appropriately, financed in a manner which can be dealt with in the long term, implemented effectively and managed for improved development and integration within the region?

Guest Post by Tahmina Shafique, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Bangladesh @ http://southasiaeconomicsummit.wordpress.com/page/5/

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