While stressing on what he termed, the “internet of things” and quoting the instance of the 1,500 mile long Grand Trunk Road from Kolkata to Kabul, US Ambassador Richard Verma lamented that south Asia is one of the least economically integrated areas in the world.
“Intra-regional trade as a percentage of total trade in the region has languished between four and five per cent compared to ASEAN where it stands at 25 per cent,” he said at a seminar on Indo-Asia Connectivity for Shared Prosperity.
Verma pointed to two areas of connectivity that probably don’t get enough attention. “The first is virtual connectivity, by which I mean enhancing digital connections across the region. And second is strengthening the connectivity of shared values and ideas – can you have real connectivity without a common view of what is urgent, important or even objectionable?” he said.
Verma said digital transformation is expected to generate as much as USD 19 trillion in economic value over the next decade. He said the “internet of things” will be the infrastructure of the information society and bridging the digital divide is instrumental to ensuring our citizens can take advantage of the new digital economy.
Verma, added that in the past, the region had flourished through integrated economic and cultural exchange, bound by a tradition of dialogue and cultural exchange. “What is required for it to take root once again is a common vision that takes into confidence the region’s stakeholders,” Verma said adding the Grand Trunk Road of the 21st century is as much about ideas and shared values as it is of a physical infrastructure. “Whether it’s in trade, energy, water, or people-to-people ties, connectivity is critical to South Asia’s future development,” Verma said.
He praised Modi government’s stress of engaging with neighbouring countries and said that India’s resolution of territorial disputes with Bangladesh and Burma was an example of their committment to international norms of regional stability.
The Ambassador said his government supported many projects between India and its neighbours both between governments and between NGOs.
“The premise behind these efforts is straightforward: the economic benefits of increased connectivity can generate the prosperity and people-to-people linkages necessary for strong partnerships based on shared values. This is an objective the United States strongly supports,” he said.