High time to expedite regional cooperation in South Asia: Experts

High time to expedite regional cooperation in South Asia: Experts

Experts underlined the need for regional cooperation to expedite trade, address climate change concerns and overcome food insecurity in South Asia. Speaking at a two-day seminar on 'Regional cooperation on trade, climate change and food security in South Asia: Some reflections and way forward,' organised by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) in the capital today, they also stressed that all South Asian countries should work in tandem to increase intra-regional trade, and fight widespread poverty that has been a perennial problem for the region. Addressing the inaugural session of the seminar, officiating secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Shanker Das Bairagi highlighted the need to promote more investment in agriculture to address food insecurity. He also stressed that SAFTA should expedite work to address non-tariff barriers (NTBs) for significant progress has already been made in reducing tariffs and eliminating quantitatives restrictions. He also urged the participants to provide informed inputs to strengthen regional cooperation in South Asia, which will be taken by the 18th SAARC Summit to be held in Kathmandu in November. Likewise, advisor to the Prime Minister Dr Dinesh Bhattarai, on the occasion, reiterated that increasing intra-regional trade is essential to accelerate economic growth in South Asia. He highlighted that given South Asia's vulnerability to climate change impacts, well coordinated efforts at national, regional and global levels are necessary. Stressing on the need to make agriculture employment decent in the region Bhattarai pointed out that inclusive collaboration between governments, private sector and relevant stakeholders is key to effectively address trade, climate change and food security concerns in the region. As the chair of the session executive chairman at the SAWTEE Dr Posh Raj Pandey appreciated the positive developments that have taken place in South Asia over the past few years, mainly in terms of increasing economic growth and reducing poverty. "However, true potential of regional cooperation is yet to be realised," he said. Making a presentation on the ninth WTO Ministerial Decision on Food Security, he argued that public stock-holding of food for food security purpose might not be helpful to stabilise prices as envisaged, and called for regional cooperation by prohibiting export bans, coordinating price and trade policies, enhancing cooperation in the area of agricultural research, and increasing investment in agriculture. Similarly, research director at SAWTEE Puspa Sharma stressed the need to prioritise food security, while highlighting that non-operationalisation of the SAARC Food Bank that is a testament to the region's lack of concern over growing food insecurity. Similarly, executive director at the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) Secretariat in Geneva Dr Ratnakar Adhakari talked on the role of Aid for Trade (AfT) and EIF in providing assistance and support to least-developed countries, including in South Asia, for the implementation of trade facilitation measures and commitments under the Trade Facilitation Agreement of the WTO. He also highlighted that at present, nearly 82 per cent of total AfT funding for trade facilitation in South Asia is concentrated in Afghanistan, and therefore, there is a need to increase and diversify the funding to other South Asian countries. In one of the sessions, participants also dwelt upon the issue of non-operationalisation of the SAARC Food Bank, and viewed that the mechanism, as it exists, is more beneficial for the smaller economies of the region. However, even to make it work for them, there is need to make changes in some of the operational procedures. About 50 participants, including 25 from other South Asian countries, representing governments, civil society, private sector, academia also discussed on the importance of developing a regional transit agreement in South Asia to benefit from intra-regional trade.
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