Regional economic integration has failed to take off in South Asia and it has a minuscule presence in our immediate neighbourhood. Regional groupings are prospering in most parts of the world, South Asia is an exception to the trend and a corrective actions are required, said Vice- President Hamid Ansari, said.
Despite potential benefits, South Asian economies remain the least integrated, with trade stagnating at around 5.76% of the region’s total trade when even Sub-Saharan Africa, with poor transport and telecommunication infrastructure scored over South Asia, with over 10% of its trade being intra-regional, he said. There was minimal FDI among Saarc members due to regulatory issues and non-facilitative business environment and even intra-region travel and tourism was also below desired levels, Ansari pointed out. An attitude of neglect or immobility to our immediate neighbourhood will not enhance our capacity and may deny us options, the VP warned.
This paradox of prospering regionalism in most parts of the world and its miniscule presence in South Asia needed to be addressed, Ansari said and called for a joint and cooperative effort to deal with the common challenges as this was the logical way ahead for South Asia. India’s large and growing economy offers the region a profitable destination for its exports and a competitive source for its imports, investments and technology, he said.
Ansari was speaking on ‘Global Regionalism and Regional Inertia in South Asia’ at the inauguration of the International Relations Conference on ‘India and Development Partnerships in Asia and Africa: Towards a New Paradigm’ organised by the Symbiosis Institute of International Studies of the Symbiosis International University and supported by the Public Diplomacy Division of the ministry of external affairs, in Pune.
Ansari said analysts are attributing reasons for immobility and low levels of intra-regional trade to disparity in size between India and its neighbours with India accounting for four-fifth of the regional GDP by value, weak port and transport infrastructure, difficult business environment, apprehension of being swamped by Indian business interests and resultant damage to local industries. This has led to persistence of high levels of overall protection, restrictive rules of origin and destination, lack of coverage and commitment in the merchandise trade agreement and persistence of ‘negative list’ category as an impediment to free trade.
“Despite these, the questions in the final analysis boils down to political will, or a lack of it, to further regional cooperation. Some