Sri Lanka urges South Asian governments to work together

Colombo, March 12: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called on South Asian governments to work together for a dynamic economy. Wickremesinghe on Friday said South Asia was slower in taking advantage of the opportunities that can arise from open trade in the region.

According to him, this was the reason the region is home to 44 percent of the world’s poorest people, ColomboPage reported. The Prime Minister pointed out that regional trade was a key component of growth in the countries of Southeast Asia.

In South Asia, intra-regional trade among Saarc countries accounts for just five percent of total trade, compared to 25 percent for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). He said the governments must use trade opportunities to lift their people out of poverty.

“If trade is to become a key driver of growth in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the region, we will most likely have to generate it ourselves — by transforming South Asia from one of the world’s least economically integrated regions into one of its most integrated,” Wickremesinghe said.

According to him, tariffs and other restrictions hobble trade among South Asian countries but those obstacles were supposed to be swept away with the establishment of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the largest of all the world’s regional trading blocs, with close to two billion people.

But Saarc’s reliance on bilateral negotiations has slowed the process to a crawl, keeping the region much poorer than it needs to be. “If Saarc is to succeed, a new multilateral mechanism for cooperation will be needed,” he said.