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Together: An Accelerated South Asian Cooperation in the New Normal

Iftikhar Ali Malik, President, SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry Pakistan & Srilanka-Trade and...
Published April 14, 2021
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Iftikhar Ali Malik, President, SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry

  • Pakistan & Srilanka-Trade and Investment Opportunities

An accelerated South Asian cooperation is the demand of the new world order of post Covid-19. As the Corona virus has swiftly travelled beyond the borders in South Asia and in other regions of the world, a well-planned international and regional collaboration is essential to rapidly vaccinate people in different societies, to manage and contain the spread of the disease, for the economic recovery amidst intermittent lockdowns, and to achieve an accelerated inclusive, resilient and sustainable growth and development in South Asia.

In this regard, the SAARC and its specialised and apex bodies have pivotal roles to play. The revival of the SAARC process is a must in this unprecedented outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a well-planned greater regional cooperation, governments and all development stakeholders in the South Asian region should harness the full potential of collaboration to win the new world order of post COVID-19.

The recent progressive steps taken by the South Asian leaders have been momentous in terms of accelerating regional cooperation in the new normal situation. Pakistani government and other South Asian governments have expressed their support for the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi's five proposals on making South Asia a COVID-19 free region presented at an online workshop on management of COVID-19. On occasion of PM Imran Khan's visit to Sri Lanka both nations reiterated their commitment to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter and stressed the need of SAARC Member countries to build on convergences, for greater good of the people in the region.

The Government of Pakistan has expressed willingness to host the long stalked 20th SAARC Summit in Islamabad in this year 2021, which has been delayed for about 5 years since 2016 due to unavoidable circumstances. India is most likely to support Pakistan in hosting the SAARC Summit in 2021 whilst other SAARC countries have shown no objects to date.

We, being the citizens and business leaders in the SAARC region, can have viable hopes for effective measures on the part of political leadership in our region in terms of accelerating regional cooperation among South Asian nations. Online Meeting of SAARC Heads of Government, held in March 2020, has established the SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund, worth about USD 21.8 million, which can be used by any of the member countries to meet the costs of immediate healthcare and other essential activities in combating the disease. The private sector should closely work with the South Asian governments and health authorities in establishing appropriate healthcare roadmaps and implementing the agreed measures in the areas of healthcare cooperation in the region.

The potential of increasing trade and investment and better positioning, to have a say in global governance, has the potential of uniting South Asian countries, while sidelining political differences to pursue regional integration. South Asia has been known for its low level of intra regional trade. In achieving a speedy economic recovery of COVID-19 ridden economies, unleashing the South Asian trade potential is paramount.

Strengthening the provisions of South Asian Free Trade Area to promote mutual investments, facilitate and liberalise trade in goods and services, and to alleviate trade barriers. The member states under SAARC should collaborate on regional value chains to strengthen the business competitiveness of the region and should encourage forming regional industry associations and design centres under auspice of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In, regional cooperation in South Asian freight corridors, food security along with green economy, transition towards sustainable energy and digital economy, and building disaster resilience are momentous in achieving a speedy economic recovery in the new normal conditions.

It should be emphasized that South Asian countries, especially India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal reflect sizeable shares of the working age population which migrate overseas in search of better jobs. Whilst international migration of South Asian workers has large positive effects on South Asian economies in terms of remittance flows perspectives, migration of skilled labour force can negatively affect the economic recovery process of South Asia. Therefore, South Asian governments together with the private sector need to have effective modalities to attract the skilled workforce back to their home countries in the macroeconomic plan of recovery in the new normal context.

The SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, being the apex business body of SAARC, have a pivotal role to play in all major areas of regional cooperation in the South Asian economic recovery process of post Covid-19. We, as the business leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, are fully committed to fulfill our tasks in this worthy endeavour. The state-of-the-art new building of SAARC CCI Headquarters, scheduled to open soon, will be the planning and coordination hub of private sector mega projects in South Asia in the process of economic recovery in the new normal context. I am fully confident that we together can achieve an accelerated growth along with the economic recovery over coming the challenges generated by the pandemic which created the foundation for an unprecedented success for generations to come.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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