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South Asia Economic Conclave
 
 
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If the future belongs to Asia, the future lies in South Asia. The South Asian region, with a 1.6 billion population, has the critical mass to sustain rapid growth. Down the years, human capital that moved from the region to the outside world has excelled in various fields. Stating this in his inaugural address at the three-day first South Asia Economic Conclave, being organised in New Delhi by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in cooperation with Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India and the World Bank in New Delhi, Mr Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Railways, Government of India, said that the SAARC member nations would benefit exponentially by deepening regional cooperation in area of agriculture which is the main source of livelihood for the majority of people living in the region. 

Mr Prabhu urged the SAARC countries to learn from each other’s strengths in the agriculture sector, as well as adopt cropping patterns that are suited to the agro-climate zones of each of the countries.  This would greatly enhance the overall agriculture productivity in the region. 

Mr Prabhu underscored the need for deeper regional cooperation in the area of agriculture research and urged the countries to share their expert pre- and post-harvest practices for the common good of the region. 

Noting that the top-soil across the region is under threat today, Mr Prabhu said that the countries of the region should look to jointly address issues such as increasingly salinity of land. He also called for closer cooperation to deal with issues concerning climate change and environmental degradation.

Mr Prabhu laid emphasis on the need for deep regional cooperation in energy development, especially renewables like hydropower, wind energy, etc. He cited the example of how Bhutan is now exporting hydropower to India in a win-win arrangement. He also urged the governments in South Asia to promote the documentation of traditional knowledge, especially with respect to biodiversity. 

Ms Annette Dixon, Vice President – South Asia, The World Bank, stated in her address that closer regional cooperation will not only deliver economic benefits to the people but also help the member states to deal with natural disasters more effectively. Stating that South Asia is today the fastest growing region in the world, Ms Dixon said the SAARC states should find ways to promote intra-regional trade and reduce the cost of doing trade with each other. She pointed out that a freerer trade in electricity alone will deliver huge economic benefits to the entire region and also help cut down CO2 emissions. 

Ms Dixon said the private sector – including SMEs – could play a catalytic role in the region’s economic progress through FDI. Currently, intra-regional FDI is a mere 2% of the overall FDI inflows into the region.

Earlier, Mr Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman – Steering Committee South Asia Economic Conclave, Past President, CII and Chairman, Hero Corporate Services, suggested that the South Asian countries could consider developing a regional ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking index, such that it helps the regional economies in their growth process. He observed that business could play a key part in cementing the bilateral ties. 

Mr Diwesh Sharan, Deputy Director General, Asian Development Bank, expressed hope that the proposed South Asia Economic Union will take shape in the near future. He observed that open regionalism will pave the way for deeper regional cooperation. He called for the implementation of SAFTA in its entirety and added that all bilateral trade agreements should be integrated with SAFTA. 

Mr Sharan said that the region should also focus upon developing regional value chains for industry to participate.

Mr Suraj Vaidya, President Designate, SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry, called for regional investment treaties and the setting up of a regional CEOs forum.

 

Mr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII in his opening remarks underlined the unprecedented role of the private sector in promoting the regional economic dialogue, which found expression at this first ever South Asia Economic Conclave. He mentioned that the Conclave has drawn the participation of both business leaders and media professionals and creative people from across the South Asian region.

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