SASEC meets to push limit on trade synergy, connectivity

NEW DELHI
3 Apr 2017

India and six other South Asian countries today pledged to improve intra-regional connectivity to boost trade and tourism as they eye USD 70 billion incremental GDP and 20 million jobs by 2025.
Finance ministers of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar met here today to reshape the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), which was originally founded 16 years ago by four nations - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Other countries joined in subsequently.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: "Our collective vision is for SASEC to power Asia in the 21st century, sustaining growth that synergises the growth of the natural resources of the sub-region, industry and infrastructure potential through the enhanced cooperation. This can possibly generate incremental USD 70 billion GDP and 20 million employment annually by 2025."
The seven nations sought trade of oil and gas among themselves as also enhancing road connectivity. They also looked to leverage natural resources-based industries, promote industry-to-industry links and bolster connectivity to boost trade and tourism.
Besides improving people-to-people contact, they will "develop gateways and hubs to expand the sub-region's trade and commerce to regional and global markets."  "We believe that these synergies can generate annually an estimated USD 70 billion in incremental GDP and 20 million in incremental aggregate employment by 2025," it said.
The member countries came out with the SASEC Vision, a new strategic road map to guide the sub-region's development through 2025, which was was announced after the meeting of the finance ministers of the seven nations.
While electricity is being traded between the nations, the trade processes and procedures are becoming more and more efficient. "To further align and focus our interventions, we adopted the SASEC Operational Plan, 2016-25, which defines the strategic objectives and operational priorities in transport, trade facilitation and energy as well as for economic corridor development," said the joint statement issued after the meeting of the finance ministers.
The members want SASEC to become "better, stronger, and faster" to make South Asia one of the fastest growing sub-regions in the world.
"We will accelerate and sustain the growth momentum of recent years by unlocking the hitherto untapped potential of the sub-region's natural resources, industry and infrastructure through sub-regional cooperation," it said.
The SASEC vision for 2025 reflects member nations' commitment to tap into latent industrial demand and promote sub-regional industry-to-industry links.
The road map is expected to guide SASEC members in developing gateways and hubs to expand trade and commerce, which can help achieve the long-term goal.
In 2016, the ADB approved financing for nine SASEC investment projects worth USD 2.4 billion, including USD 1.2 billion worth of transport and economic corridor projects in India.
There are 19 projects indicatively planned for 2017-19 for potential ADB funding totalling USD 3.6 billion, with a focus on transport, energy, trade facilitation and economic corridor development, an ADB statement said.
The joint statement said SASEC takes pride in significant gains achieved over the past 16 years, especially in transport, trade facilitation and energy.
"Infrastructure connectivity has improved our countries' access to key markets and gateway ports and improved prospects for participation in regional and global value chains," said the declaration.
SASEC nodal officials have been asked to undertake necessary consultations on the potential synergies identified by the vision document with a view to formulating a road map for implementation of the vision.
The countries noted that road connectivity projects in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal will strengthen trans-border trade and India and Nepal exploring pilot project for an electronic cargo tracking system will improve transit facilitation.
Stating that the endeavour is to make South Asia the economic powerhouse of Asia, the joint statement read: "Our investments in infrastructure will reach not only to trade gateways, but to the hinterlands to help improve people's access to economic opportunities, increase productivity and variety of the goods and services, and provide them with better access to social services." (PTI)