Indo-Asia Connectivity for Shared Prosperity

At the plenary of the conference, Richard R. Verma, US Ambassador to India, reminded the house that connectivity in the Indo-Asia region is more than building bridges and ports – it is connectivity over shared values which are universal in nature: standing up to terrorism, ensuring gender equality, condemnation of drugs and child labour. It is only on this subsoil of consensus of values that trade and investment in the region can be boosted.

Drawing attention to the fact that the region was naturally lined by waterways, Satu Limaye clarified that the conference seeks to offer pragmatic recommendations to businesses and Governments to enable them to address the obstacles to Maritime and Inland waterways connectivity. These include assessment of rail, road, air linkages; itemization of products to be delivered, engagement of private players, particularly sub-regional players and local politicians and stakeholders including those who fear loss of jobs as a result of enhanced connectivity. He also highlighted the need for public – private partnership in augmenting maritime connectivity and the need to overcome the gap between policy makers and pragmatic solutions sought by traders and businessmen.

Mr. Tariq Karim observed that South Asia cannot develop without energy security just as the industrial revolution could not have taken off without the steam engine. The conference envisaged that existing bi-lateral cross border electricity trade as between India and Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan to move towards multi-lateral energy cooperation. The private sectors are to be incentivized to that end. Such cross border electricity trade would require a regional institution by way of a legal and regulatory framework along the lines evidenced in BIMSTEC or SAARC.

In respect of Indo-Asia connectivity for shared prosperity, Mr. Rajat Nag drew attention to 3 major areas: trade infrastructure and its deficits, reducing non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation. One has to address the physical constraints to enhancement of trade, particularly those pertaining to infrastructure at the borders. Physical connectivity must be extended to digital connectivity. Re-affirming Mr. Karim’s contention that economics is politics, he suggested the need to look into stories where people’s lives have been affected adversely by cross border trade and liberalisation.

Mr. Rajeev Singh drew attention to the several initiatives taken by the ICC to address Indo-Asia connectivity for boosting trade in the region. He identified in particular the need to ensure transparency, for addressing the trust deficit in some parts and also about expanding the product basket of the region.
In all this, Mr. Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International suggested the need to invoke a project-based approach on the basis of a consensus between the concerned countries in their endeavour to achieve prosperity.