South Asia think tanks in integration push at Sri Lanka meet amid political lethargy

South Asia Economic Summit colombo

ECONOMYNEXT – South Asian academics and think tanks develop policies and strategies to integrate the region, despite political lethargy and a moribund South Asia Association Regional Co-operation which started a decade ago with high hopes.

In 2008 the SAARC organization started with a preferential trade agreement, which was expected to lead to a free trade deal, customs union and by 2020, European style integrated area.

But the SAARC had ground to a halt, Dushni Weerakoon, head of Sri Lanka’s Institute of Policy Studies said, kicking off a South Asia Economic Summit, bringing together think tanks, civil society and several private enterprises.

The annual meet was initiated 12 years ago by top Sri Lanka economist and former head of IPS, Saman Kelegama, who was a strong advocate of free trade. This year’s summit looks at ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ as technology drives change.

Weerakoon said there were challenges including premature de-industrialization, jobless growth. South Asia had an increasingly educated workforce but technology was also bringing challenges including in privacy and ethics, that had to be dealt with.

The SAARC process had also ground to a halt, amid political differences.

Mustafisu Rahman, from the Center of Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh said while the SAARC political will had waned the regional thinkers and academics who believed in the original vision should not give up.

“I think that vision something which still drives us,” he said. “I think we have to be prepared with a policy agenda and recommendations when political leaders are ready.”

He said at bi-lateral and sub-regional level as well as non-state level some progress was being made.

Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, said the region was running into global geopolitical issues with trade tensions between the US and China.

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He said growth projections for the region was still over 6 percent for 2019 and 2020, and private sector players were leading job creation.

South Asian was embracing technology but there were emerging issues in ethics and regulation. Governments may react and ban activities until an effort was made to pre-empt and develop an acceptable regulatory framework.

Abid Qaiyum Suleri, from Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Pakistan said the region also had to come up with strategies to deal with cyber security and data privacy, as it moves toward the fouth industrial revolution.

Due to protectionism and regional rivalries South Asia is one of the east integrated regions in the world. South Asian nations also have weak central banks which run into currency crisis and provide a back drop to halt trade and promote inefficient domestic production. (Colombo/Sept26/2019)

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