Greater integration in need

Kuensel, Bhutan

Greater integration in need

By Bishal Rai in New Delhi, India

11 September 2006

The center of gravity of the world economy was shifting to South Asia but opportunities of this regional dynamism could only be harnessed if the region integrated.

India’s foreign secretary Mr. Shyam Saran said the region, which shared cultural space, historical legacies and economic complementarities should seek greater integration to reap the benefits of the shift of the global economy.

The foreign secretary was talking to diplomatic correspondents from the SAARC region at the Indian Council for World Affairs, New Delhi, at a 5-day programme jointly organised by XP Division, India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Foreign Service Institute, for the journalists in the region. The programme, which ended early this week, sought to establish an informed correspondence in terms of India’s foreign policy in the region and the world, her relationships with other countries, nuclear, energy and globalisation.

“We need to be a part of the global dynamism, of the shift, and contribute to it,” the foreign secretary said.

He said India’s foreign policy was supportive of regional and international integration that sought to create an environment supportive of economic development, relationships of immediate neighbours and the move towards a goal of South Asia cooperation.

The drive had been particularly in integration of regional economy through the formulation of ASEAN, BIMSTEC, SAFTA etc., and other bilateral trade agreements. Today, India was in a better position to bring about greater integration being a major contributor in shaping of the world order, besides United States, European Union, China and Japan.

But the greater integration also called for cleaning up issues that lay in the backyard of each of the neighbouring countries in the region. All countries were facing series of cross cutting issues; terrorism, drug trafficking, linked problems of energy and environment and health issues. Dominated by these issues the nature of diplomacy was also changing in accordance with the new world order created post 9/11.

Former Indian foreign secretary and president of Council of Social Development, Delhi, Professor Muchkund Dubey said the neighbours were natural partners for cooperation and that it had conspicuous advantage in trade and commerce. Trade liberalisation was important.

“But our relationships is often guided by our calculation of short term cost involved-and forget the long term benefits,” he said adding that there should be short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits which would create a ‘win-win- situation’ for all.

Some of the problems that South Asia community faced and which deterred a greater integration stemmed from issues like identity; the proximity of history, art, literature etc. did not make the neighbours comfortable with each other. There was also in operation the phenomenon of big and small neighbours syndrome, and the impact of internal implications.

To over come this, consultation and structured dialogue was important and policies had to be formed that was in interest of all the countries.

For example, as Professor Dubey pointed out funds should be created to help small neighbours build their capacity to export. Otherwise SAFTA was becoming a ‘race to the bottom’, with each country including maximum items on the negative list.

There should also always be emphasis on maintenance and progress of people to people contact, by creating an open society.

Speaking on India’s relation with Bhutan, Joint Secretary (North) Mr. Pankaj Saran said that the two countries shared a very close relationship.

He said India has helped develop Bhutan’s potential as an economic entity with a separate identity. The relationship survived on goodwill and it was not only looked from the side of economic aid but also in the areas of human resource and intellectual development.

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