Saarc states must close ranks over global trade
Divergence of interests among South Asian countries has shadowed the prospect of a regional common position on global trade regime, trade analysts said yesterday.
“Differences are emerging from time to time while the number of common issues have declined,” said Saman Kelegama, executive director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Sri Lanka.
Kelegama's remark came as he and his fellow experts from other South Asian countries were engaged in a discussion yesterday in Dhaka to chalk out a common stance for the Saarc bloc so that the region's interests and concerns could be raised at the WTO (World Trade Organisation) talks.
But the interests of this regional forum, the speakers said, vary due to differences in the stage of economic progress among the member-states.
Of eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), three countries ---India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- are considered developing ones, while the rest are regarded as least developed countries (LDCs).
At the WTO talks, India plays a crucial role in the grouping of developing countries, while Bangladesh is in the LDCs, the discussants said.
In addition, concerns of Saarc states also vary regarding issues like removal of agriculture subsidy by developed economies such as EU and the USA and market access for non-agricultural products.
Some are net food importing countries and some net food exporting ones, said the Lankan expert.
“For a common position, it will be very practical to agree or disagree on different issues,” he said, adding that a common stance could be easier if deeper economic integration among partners was in place.
RS Ratna, professor, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, said Saarc countries face challenges like varied trade interests, lack of common backward or forward linkages in industries.
“It has made difficult to find a common defensive or offensive interest,” said Ratna.
He also pointed to low level of intra-regional trade and investment flows as another challenge in sketching a collective perspective.
“The biggest challenge before us is we need to have a collective regional perspective,” he said, suggesting internal reforms within the Saarc's institutional framework.
Ratna said a common declaration from Saarc trade ministers is needed before each WTO Ministerial. He also recommended a regular meeting of country representatives at WTO, Geneva.
But Ratna asserted: if Saarc comes up with a common position, the decision has to come from the top (political will).”
“We need to understand each other's positions clearly to work out a common position,” said Farooq Sobhan, president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI).
The BEI chief said a proactive move of stakeholders for the implementation of Safta (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) and deeper regional integration could induce a political will.
He, however, said: “We need to try to sort out problems within the Saarc.”