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Economic integration best option for peace in South Asia: summit

Peshawar

March 5, 2019

PESHAWAR: The leading economists and officials of the international financial institutions have told a summit that economic integration of South Asia is still the best option to promote peace and sustainable development in the region, particularly in India and Pakistan.

They reiterated that evidence shows that economic integration has proven to be the harbinger of the regional harmony and peace, besides having an overarching impact on power reduction across the region over the last few decades.

Addressing the Benefits of South Asia Economic Integration: A Journalism Summit, Nagesh Kumar, Director, United Nations, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (NESCAP), World Bank (WB) Country Director for Pakistan, Patchmuthu Illangovan, WB officials Gonzelo Varela, Sanjay Kathuria, Chairman South Asia Watch on Trade Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), Posh Raj Pandey, James Crabtree, associate professor, a journalist-based Singapore and author of “The Billionaire Raj” and others said the “economics of neighbourhood” have become the moving power to bring the region closer.

The summit was organized and convened by the Donald W Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism located at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. It is sponsored by the US Department of State.

The speakers pointed out that mostly smaller and poorer economies in the region are the larger beneficiaries of this regional economic integration. They acknowledged that the world trade has never recovered from the shock it had in 2007-8 and the subdued growth of world trade is the “New Normal”.

However, the regional economic connectivity and integration is still the best option to promote peace, harmony and sustainable development among the neighbours and the world at the later stage.

Both the speakers and participants from across the region, including those from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka identified a number of man-made, environmental, strategic and geographical factors holding South Asia back.

The two arch-rivals, India and Pakistan, remained at the centre of the four-day long interactions among the participants from both the countries and even those presented their keynote presentations on the regional economic integration.

They said that Pakistan remained the least integrated country and its exports would have doubled if it had regimes that could use the total potential of trade. Both Pakistan and India have very discriminatory regimes for each other and mostly carry out informal trade or trade through the third country which is not benefiting the two nations the way it should, the leading economists told the summit.

Trade in South Asia, particularly among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are not growing due to a number of factors and tariffs, non-tariff and para-tariff barriers being most critical of them, the summit highlighted.

It pointed out that the world was not going to produce jobs the way it used to do in the past and the regional states would have to take integrated steps to create value-added jobs that will not be just the engine of growth, but the forerunner of the regional integration too.

The summit asserted that the regional powers would have to unlock their potential in innovative and futuristic areas including e-commerce. They also referred to the estimates of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and that the global e-commerce sales amounted to $ 25.3 trillion in 2015 ($ 22.4 trillion for business to business (B2B) plus $2.9 trillion for business to country (B2C). In India, e-commerce reportedly grew at an annual rate of more than 34 percent during 2009 and 2014 and it is expected to grow to $ 80 billion by 2020. In Pakistan, e-commerce market estimated to be around $ 150 million in 2017 and expected to reach $ 1 billion while in Sri Lanka, e-commerce is expected to grow to $ 4 billion by 2020.

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