Improvement in trans-border trade and industrial relations among South Asian countries would help boost growth and employment in the region, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday while addressing a meeting of the members of the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC). Enhanced cooperation among the member countries would also give an impetus to small and medium enterprises in the region, Jaitley said.
Finance ministers of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar met to reshape the SASEC, which was originally founded 16 years ago by four nations — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. In the vision document released on Monday, the SASEC pledged to improve intra-regional connectivity to boost trade and tourism as they eye $70 billion incremental gross domestic product (GDP) and 20 million jobs by 2025.
In his address, Jaitley said India is following a policy of Act East to improve connectivity and relations with these countries even as he urged the SASEC members to “stand together” in times of crisis. “India is following a policy of Act East to improve connectivity and relations with countries of South-East Asia and East Asia. Improved access to gateway ports, particularly in Bangladesh and Myanmar, may help unleash the latent potential of agro and forest-based industries in India’s North East region,” he said.
About initiatives taken by India, Jaitley said the country together with Nepal is building a cross-border power transmission line to help in the distribution of electricity from power projects being developed in Nepal. “I am confident we will be able to fully harness the hydro-power potential of the region and act as a bridge connecting power surplus and power deficient regions,” he said.
“Power trade in the sub region also presents a significant opportunity with gains and savings for the member countries, and may collectively help us move towards our energy security goals. We have developed a power transmission link with Bangladesh through which we are supplying 500 MW of electricity to Bangladesh. We are also engaged with Bangladesh to develop transmission link to the eastern part of the country,” he added.
The SASEC initiative, guided by the vision, will help the member countries optimally utilise their resources and facilitate access to trade gateways and linkages with global markets. “The SASEC road connectivity projects in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal are under way to help strengthen transborder trade; and industrial, social, and cultural exchange among them,” the members said in a joint statement.
“India and Nepal are also exploring to pilot an electronic cargo tracking system to improve transit facilitation between them…We hope that ongoing efforts to promote mutually beneficial exchanges of gas and petroleum between our countries would succeed to realise significant savings and help ensure energy security,” the statement said.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which serves as the secretariat for the SASEC, said that the South Asia was the fastest growing sub-region in Asia in 2016. “There is a promising prospect of an active and productive labour force in the coming years as South Asia experiences a demographic dividend, raising its share of the working age population. The sub-region also has geographic, resource advantages and industrial potential,” ADB Vice-President Wencai Zhang said.