Islamabad: Professor G.L. Peiris, Hon’ble Minister for external affairs, Government of Sri Lanka has urged upon the Governments of South Asia to improve physical and people-to-people connectivity to ensure faster and sustainable economic growth in South Asia.
The region as a whole particularly economies of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka though are performing well as compared with other regions, however, its impact remains elusive because of the greater disconnect instead of required level of connectivity. Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka said while his inaugural address at Seminar on Regional Connectivity in South Asia: challenges and prospects organized by SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARCCCI) in collaboration with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Sri Lanka in Colombo on July 28, 2011.
He further said that the Public and the Private sector need to create synergies in areas of mutual interest and their shared vision on food security, energy security and counter terrorism mechanism was required on regional level. He termed terrorism and security issues as the serious impediments to regional connectivity.
Mr. Annisul Huq, President SAARC CCI urged upon the Governments of South Asia to exhibit greater political and economic will to foster regional connectivity and implement plans like SAARC motor Vehicle Agreements pertaining to Rail and Road Transport in phased manner. He said that the region was unable to substantially contribute to the intra-regional trade and global economy because of the poor connectivity.
SAARC Chambers’ President proposed ten items agenda for improving regional connectivity in South Asia and emphasized for the Public-Private partnership in service sector and reiterated the need for flexible Visa Regime to improve people-to-people contacts particularly increase SAARC Visa Exemption Stickers from 100 to 1000 for businessmen of each South Asian country.
Mr. Iftikhar Ali Malik, Vice President SAARC CCI in his remarks said that infrastructure needs to be improved as priority matter. He cited the Investment Climate Assessment Survey 2008, which has found that about 40% firms in India, 45% in Pakistan, 60% in Bangladeshi and 75% in Nepal have regarded inadequate-infrastructure as a major obstacle to the expansion of their businesses.
Mr. Malik further stated that out of eight SAARC Member nations, five countries i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal share common borders and provide vast opportunities for business through road and rail, however, due to high trade barriers, poor connectivity and inadequate trade facilitation measures, intra-regional trade largely remains unrealized. He termed Transit Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a welcome move and hoped that its implementation would give boost to regional trade.
SAARC CCI Secretary General in his remarks said that due to poor connectivity, the South Asian countries failed to tap 72% of the trade potential of $ 65 billion available in 2011. He emphasized for the need of improving regional connectivity, particularly physical, economic and people-to-people connectivity adding that not only road and railway corridors, inland waterway transport and aviation also offer prospects for better regional transport connectivity.
Earlier Mr. Kumar Mallimaratchi, President FCCI in his welcome address asserted the need for combined strategy to face the challenges associated with regional connectivity while Mr. Kosala Wickramanyake, Vice President SAARC CCI offered vote of thanks.
The inaugural session was followed by a Working session, which was chaired by Mr. Ranjeet Silva, Secretary Ministry of Aviation, Government of Sri Lank and was addressed by Begum Salma Ahmed, Ex-MNA and President, Women CCI, Sindh (Pakistan), Professor Rohan Samarajeewa, Chief Executive Officer, LIRNEasia,, Mr. Saifuddin Zookawala, CEO, EFU Insurance and Chairman SAARC CCI Council on Financial Services and Insurance, Dr. Farah Naaz Ghauri, Professor University of Aurangabad, India, Prof Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University, (Bangladesh) and representative of Sri Lankan Airline Mr. Sri Senanayake.
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