Taskforces to be formed to boost Saarc connectivity | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 11, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 11, 2015

Taskforces to be formed to boost Saarc connectivity

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Some five taskforces will be formed to increase connectivity and trade in the Saarc region.

The decision was taken at the inaugural South Asia Economic Conclave held in the Indian capital last month.

The Confederation of Indian Industries or CII, a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organisation, arranged the three-day event with support from its government and the World Bank.

The taskforces will examine the key areas for regional cooperation to greater depth, said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the CII.

“Our partners in various countries will lead the taskforces in areas.”

The five taskforces are: foreign direct investment, people-to-people connect, trade infrastructure, trade facilitation and energy cooperation.

An institutionalised mechanism to take these deliberations forward is required as South Asia needs a whole new approach, he said, while calling the customs authorities of all the countries need to incorporate and adopt international norms and standards.

At the conference, the WB said it would provide support so that the follow-up actions become fruitful.

Onno Ruhl, the WB's country director for India, said the multilateral lender will play an active part in catalysing South Asian economic integration. 

Regional economic integration is a drawn-out process, he said. For instance, it took perhaps 300 years for the European Union to take its present shape.

Annette Dixon, the WB's vice-president for South Asia, said the Washington-based lender has been working with determination for the last five years toward the goal of regional cooperation with its partners.

The WB's portfolio of regional projects includes policy and analytical work and on-the ground initiatives for wildlife and environmental protection, energy and improving trade and transport connectivity, Dixon said.

For instance, the Mizoram Roads Regional Connectivity project is designed to increase transport connectivity along regional trade corridors and to provide quicker and safer access to all parts of the state and to the neighbouring ones as well as to Bangladesh and Myanmar, she said.

“This brings us to the very important role that the private sector must play in providing the nuts and bolts that help integrate economies.”

It is the private sector, big and small entities alike, that must increase regional investment, she said.

Less than 2 percent of the total foreign investment in South Asia is intra-regional, denoting a historical mindset that has missed investment opportunities and kept the region poor despite its innate wealth.

Naushad Forbes, president designate of CII and the director of Forbes Marshall Pvt Ltd, said greater people-to-people contacts will go a long way toward deepening regional cooperation.

He said visas to travel across the region should be more easily available to its natives.

Forbes went on to call for due measures to help businesses to set up their operations in each other's countries.

Stronger economic cooperation between the South Asian countries will not only help the governments in meeting the inclusivity goals but also bring about sustained peace and security across the region, said Piyush Goyal, Indian state minister for power, coal and new and renewable energy.

He said that such a concerted effort will resonate with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of South Asian “oneness”.

Modi has sent out a clear message to the heads of states of Saarc nations that India will become a partner and not a big brother, Goyal said.

At the conclave, the problems regarding sharing of water of common rivers were also raised.

He acknowledged the grave concerns expressed over water management and said all efforts have to be directed to conserve the region's water resources.

Several ministers from the region -- Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives -- participated in the three-day event.

The business leaders from all eight countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, representatives of the think-tank organisations, economists and the government officials also attended.

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