Make trade policy in South Asia more participatory, says Centad

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Dec 31 | Updated: Jan 1 2008, 05:56am hrs
The trade policy-making process in South Asia is characterized by its episodic, informal and ad hoc nature and is yet to set in place a formal institutionalized process which is broad-based, participatory and consultative, according to the South Asian Yearbook 2007-08 to be released shortly by the Delhi-based Centre for Trade and Development (Centad) It said that the participation in the process by environmentalists, labour unions and civil society was limited in nature. The India case study, however, showed that the country's involvement at the multilateral level, witnessed intense consultations with domestic stakeholders, including the state governments.

The yearbook's observation about transparency in the consultation process has come in for severe criticisms by interested groups, which have pointed out that the government had not taken the Parliament into confidence before or after signing bilateral and multilateral agreements, including the decision to join WTO.

"The countries in the region are marked by a lack of technical, human and financial capacity and in-house expertise on trade policy making, both within the government and outside," the Centad yearbook said. The yearbook, edited by experts like BS Chimni, BL Das, Mustafizur Rahman and Saman Kelegama, noted a major risk in sustaining high growth rates in the region. As the oil prices are likely to stay high for an extended period, South Asia can greatly benefit from coherent energy policies, it said.

It praised India 's "remarkable success in IT market" and suggested other South Asian countries to follow suit. South Asia also needs to focus on development of physical infrastructure. According to the yearbook, India was the first country in the region to legislate an anti-dumping law in 1982. South Asia recorded higher success rate in anti-dumping investigations than the global average.

On agriculture, the yearbook noted the limited ability of small farmers to compete. The South Asian nations generally took defensive postures on sanitary and phytosanitory (SPS) issues, they should take a proactive approach to SPS.

It called for a balanced labour law to protect the interests of the producers and suggested the need for South Asian nations to work in tandem to combat the deficiency of physicians.