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Stronger regional cooperation is very crucial for South Asia to achieve the SDGs: Dr Debapriya

Published in Daily Sun on Friday, 10 February 2017

Experts for integrating regional blocs to achieve SDGs

With a share of around 37 percent of the world’s poor, South Asia needs renewed and deeper regional integration for sustainable economic growth, eradicating poverty and achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the stipulated time, experts viewed, reports UNB.

They also observed that South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) must be re-conceptualised with a strong political will of its member states to boost regional trade ties and ensure the better use of regional and sub-regional resources for implementing the SDGs by 2030 as set by the United Nations.

Country’s leading economists Mirza Azizul Islam, Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya and  Hossain Zillur Rahman also think there is no future of Saarc unless the political leaders of the region show their good will, magnanimity and maturity to revitalise this ‘wonderful cooperative platform’.

But, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at an event of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos said, “The effectiveness of Saarc is still there and, I think, there’s a lot to work on it…Saarc is very much alive.”

Referring to the postponement of the last Saarc Summit in Pakistan, she also said, “What happened was that one Saarc Summit was postponed. There’s no reason for apprehension…the next Saarc Summit could take place in near future.”

“Stronger regional cooperation is very crucial for South Asia to achieve the SDGs.

A renewed regional approach to poverty elimination and a regional strategy may be the answer to the success of the SDGs in South Asia,” said Dr Debapriya, a distinguished fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

He said SDGs are important for South Asia as it has 23.7 percent of the global population and 37 percent of the world’s poor.

Debapriya said the regional issues in the 2030 Agenda has five aspects — policy frameworks to support poverty eradication, agricultural diversity, infrastructure quality, links between urban, peri-urban  and rural areas and cooperation  on science, technology and innovation.

Cross-border and internal conflicts remain the biggest threat to human development in the South Asia due to various conflicts, said the economist adding that state fragility, conventional boundary and territorial conflicts (between India and Pakistan) are also obstacles towards attaining SDGS in the South Asia region.

Mentioning that South and South-West Asia has been slow in leveraging regional economic integration compared with other sub-regions, the CPD fellow said, “The full potentials of sub-regional cooperation arrangements such as ECO, Saarc, Bimstec remain untapped.”

He said the bilateral problems–such as conflict between India and Pakistan, Between India and Nepal–are affecting the function of the Sarrc and other regional platforms.

Debapriya thinks Sarrc should be re-conceptualised with mechanism as to how it will deal with the bilateral problems alongside ensuring regional development.

Talking to UNB, another economist Mirza Azizul Islam said strong regional cooperation and different cooperative platforms can help the countries of the region eliminate poverty, create employment, increase investment and expand international trade.

He said bilateral problems among some countries in the South Asia region are affecting the effectiveness of different regional and sub-regional platforms.

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