South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. Intra-regional trade in South Asia is less than 2% of GDP compared to over 20% in East Asia. Labor mobility and regional travel is minimal, with few exceptions. Even remote communication is low – only 7% of international telephone calls in South Asia are to countries within the region, compared to 71% for East Asia. The case for closer integration has remained strong for a while now, and it is refreshing to see that some movement, albeit watchful, in addressing some of the region's deep rooted political economy issues, particularly between India and Pakistan.
The discussions around closer integration have centered on energy, trade, connectivity and stability. All of these offer strong potential to enhance growth in the region. However, financial sector integration overall, and access to finance in particular, hardly ever make it to the agenda of regional integration forums and deliberations. This is unfortunate, because the region has a long way to go in providing adequate access to financial services and insurance products, especially to the vulnerable segments of the population. Given that South Asia is home to more than half a billion of the world’s poor, this becomes a poverty reduction goal as much as a financial inclusion goal.
"Semiconductor Co." is a global microprocessor and chipset manufacturer, with production facilities, suppliers, and customers around the world. However, all markets are not created equal. Some customers are easier to reach than others. When it comes to exporting to India, for instance, its products are frequently held at customs for weeks, and sometimes even pilfered from warehouses monitored by customs.
According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, it takes 32 days on average to complete trade-related procedures in South Asia, among the highest in the world. Nearly 70% of the time is spent on assembling and processing an odious number of documents.
When the winners of the World Bank’s "Imagining Our Future Together" art competition first met last fall, the atmosphere was very much like the first day of school: Everyone was new, excited to meet others, and optimistic about possibilities ahead. As the exhibition of their art comes to World Bank headquarters next week and the 25 young artists prepare for their third and final meeting, their collaboration has accomplished more than we organizers ever imagined.
In 1884, the General Act of Berlin Conference established borders of African colonies. Many of these “exogenous” borders brought about by Scramble of Africa could be still found on modern maps, now separating sovereign states. About one third of all countries of Sub-Saharan Africa – much larger portion compared to other parts of the world – are landlocked.
Since trade with other countries is important for economic development, and since transportation by sea is much cheaper than any other type of transportation, the evolutionary process of “endogenous” formation of the nation states in other regions left few countries without access to sea. It was not impossible, but certainly more difficult, to develop as a nation without such.
Can economics trump politics in South Asia, a region fragmented by decades of strife? Will greater regional cooperation and lowering barriers to trade bring harmony along with economic growth?
Those were the questions on the table Thursday as a panel from across the region discussed “Breaking Down Barriers: A New Dawn in Trade and Regional Cooperation in South Asia.”
Most panelists expressed optimism about trade’s pacifying abilities. Moderator Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist, opined that “What trade does, in its very ordinariness, is modulate the emotions.” Teresita Schaffer, former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, agreed that “Trade can provide another conversation… and provide reasons why rivalries should not be allowed to get out of hand.”
But which comes first, the chicken or the egg? asked another panelist, Nepali journalist Kanak Dixit. Clearly, he said, it’s the chicken (commerce), because other things have been tried and have not worked. He said that “chicken” will lay two “eggs”: peace and prosperity.
Through its forthcoming European Union presidency Poland should inspire other regions of the world that seek their own development path. By no means do current turbulences and crisis disturbances shatter the need of European integration. Just the opposite, they make it stronger. European integration works and will get through this confusion.