Integrating the Two South Asias


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Regional Cooperation can be the key instrument to promote increased market integration in South Asia through greater flow of goods, services, capital, and ideas. This is appropriate for a region which is the least integrated region in the world, although many countries share analogous cultures and histories, as well as a passion for cricket and curry.

It is also very timely given the global downturn and the slowdown in global trade. Increased regional trade could more than compensate for the potential loss in global trade. It is estimated that increased intra-regional trade could add two percentage points to South Asia's GDP growth. This could raise South Asia's real GDP growth from 6% to 8% in 2010. Unlike fiscal stimulus, increased market integration and regional trade could add to GDP growth, without increasing public debt. It is the most efficient and cost effective instrument for South Asia to cope with the global downturn.

Increased market integration and intra-regional trade not only contributes to increased growth but it also promotes inclusive growth. It enables the lagging regions and poor who do have poor access to markets to benefit from growth. South Asia has become an emerging global power because of rapid growth and is the second fastest growing region in the world after East Asia. However, concerns have been raised that growth has not been inclusive. South Asian countries suffer from deep divides across countries, regions, sectors, and people. It is a subcontinent of sharp contrast of continental proportions. There are two South Asia’s that live in different centuries. The first is precocious. It has economic prosperity. The second is penurious. It has poverty and conflict. Both have attracted global attention for their peculiar characteristics.

The first South Asia has attracted global attention for being urban, enterprising, dynamic, and globally integrated. It produces 60 percent of South Asia’s income and is home to 30 percent of South Asia’s poor. Tamil Nadu, the most urbanized state in India, is an example of the first South Asia. Its per capita income is above India’s national average as well as South Asia’s average. It has well-established institutions, a traditionally strong value for education, skilled workforce, and an ability to take advantage of changing global conditions. It followed an unconventional growth pattern. It made the big leap straight from agriculture into services, skipping the manufacturing sector. It is among the fastest growing regions in the world. Rich regions also exist in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

A passion for Cricket, one of the few things that South Asians share...

The second South Asia suffers from widespread deprivation, dispossession, conflict, poverty, and some of the worst social indicators on planet. It is home to 70 percent of South Asia’s poor. These are the poor regions. The poor regions have lower levels of per capita income and higher levels of poverty. A large number of poor regions are located in border areas. Lagging regions and land locked countries tend to suffer the most from lack of market integration within South Asia.

South Asia stands to gain from integrating the two South Asia’s. The poor regions that are often along the borders and landlocked stand to gain the most from one South Asia. Growth benefits of market integration are likely to be large but unequal. India, a large country, with a big home market, can get by with more restrictive borders. It is lagging regions and the small, land locked countries, like Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal, which will benefit most from improved access to the markets of others.

Small countries depend more on openness to overcome the disadvantage of size: small population, small markets, and inability to take advantage of agglomeration and scale economies. Even within India, the peculiar geography that isolates the seven North-Eastern states (the so-called 7 sisters) from mainland India with the location of Bangladesh in-between suggests that market integration requires trade and transit arrangements with neighbors to benefit all regions that are lagging and isolated from the growth centers. We have already started work in the lagging regions of North West which include Afghanistan and the lagging regions of Pakistan on trade and transport to promote development. I am sure we can extend the trade and transport work in the South East. It will benefit of poor people in the lagging regions.

In what ways do you think South Asian countries should better integrate to improve development?

Next week, I will discuss this issue in more detail and how the region should overcome its infrastructure deficit through better integration and become more competitive in the global economy. 


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December 04, 2009

Along the same lines:…

Regional integration & growth


Nepal is one of the most open economies in South Asia. It is also the poorest economy in the region. Achieving high growth driven by exports has been one of the major objectives for at least two decades now. The period between 1990 and 1996 saw one of the most astounding increases in exports and an impressive economic growth rate (7.9 percent in 1994). With high hopes of stimulating exports and growth, Nepal joined the WTO on April 23, 2004, becoming the first LDC to join the trading bloc through full working party negotiation process...

Christine Zarzicki
December 07, 2009

I think that regional integration is a strategy that can either help or hinder small countries. In a situation such as the European Union, small countries benefited from regional integration and found stability in trade liberalization and open access to the members markets. In situations such as Mercosur, or even ECOWAS, however, many times smaller countries find themselves in a situation that was no better than before. For example, while Uruguay and Paraguay both initially benefited from increase trade within Mercosur, their smaller size ultimately seems to be an obstacle to their growth. The larger countries, namely Brazil, seems to dictate the agenda in terms of its own best interest and neglect the needs of the smaller nations. Variations in currency, utilization of subsidies and enforcement of Common External Tariffs (CETs) has strengthen Brazil’s economy while limiting the benefits enjoyed by the Uruguay and Paraguay.

While regional integration has been extremely helpful in other regions, such as ASEAN, it is a delicate process that needs a great deal of care. Supranational institutions seem almost necessary to enforce regulations and balance power, such as a dispute resolution mechanism or parliament. Without these institutions disparities may occur and this will only hurt the smaller developing nations.

Free trade agreements and regional initiatives are undoubtedly a sound strategy for implementing growth and stability. However all nations must be willing and able to surrender a portion of their sovereignty, and commit themselves to the project as a whole.

December 09, 2009

Hi Ejaz,

Thanks for this very thought provoking entry, I was wondering what you think are the obstacles to better integration in the region? Is it lack of political will? Modern? Deficiencies in connectivity? Thanks!