The fifth South Asia Economic Summit concluded today with participants calling for enhanced regional cooperation to address South Asia’s woes by building on the recent positive developments that have taken place in the region, mainly the improvement in the relationship between India and Pakistan.
Speaking as the chief guest at the concluding session in Islamabad, foreign minister of Pakistan Hina Rabbani Khar said that the solutions to the myriad problems plaguing the region can only come through confidence and trust among SAARC member states.
She emphasised on the need for the people of the region to look at themselves first as citizens of the region, arguing that the prosperity of an individual country depends on the prosperity of the region. Referring to the recent improvement in Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan mainly on the trade front, she reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to remove all bottlenecks in trade with its neighbours, which will ultimately benefit the entire region.
She also expressed Pakistan’s commitment to address issues of food insecurity and climate change through a regional approach.
Former member of National Planning Commission (NPC) Dr Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, on the occasion, stressed on the need to link the regional cooperation process with the Millennium Development Goals, and highlighted the critical importance of collaboration of institutions of higher learning in the region.
Discussing the development agenda for a new South Asia, chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, Prof Rehman Sobhan said that growth in South Asia has never been inclusive, therefore, to make the growth process inclusive, people’s access to assets is necessary.
He added that one way of doing so would be getting people engaged in value addition process.
Similarly, executive director of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka Dr Saman Kelegama identified three opportunities for South Asia in the next several decades – a demographic dividend, a rising middle class, and surging remittance.
The goal of the event, held under the theme 'Making growth inclusive and sustainable in South Asia', was to provide inputs to the 18th SAARC Summit that is slated to be held in Nepal.
The fifth summit — that saw some 114 foreign delegates — was organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad with South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) as one of the co-organisers.
Speaking in a session on Climate Change Challenges for Sustainable Development, senior research fellow of International Food Policy Research Institute Antoine Bouet presented the findings of a research that South Asia is likely to be adversely affected in terms of agrofood production and real income due to climate change, with Pakistan suffering the most.
He argued that trade policy reforms can help mitigate the impacts of climate change only if they are ambitious.
Research director at SAWTEE Puspa Sharma highlighted the gap between ambitious commitments in declarations and woefully poor implementation in issues of climate change in SAARC.
He emphasised on the need to shift the focus of the climate finance regime at the global level to adaptation from the existing excessive focus on mitigation. He suggested that the SAARC Technological Initiative be utilised to harness the potential of harnessing South-South technological transfer within South Asia.
Head of Research at the Centre for Policy Dialogue Fahmida Khatun pointed at the huge gap between commitment and disbursement of climate finance. She further argued that the SAARC Development Fund has not been utilised to finance climate change-related projects. The three-day long summit brought together about 200 participants, including experts and academicians, policy makers, private sector representatives, civil society representatives, and media persons from all eight South Asian countries.