SAARC NEEDS TO DO MORE
We welcome the last minute signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation at the just concluded SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal. The foreign ministers of the eight countries signed the agreement on energy cooperation in the presence of their heads of states and governments during the concluding ceremony of the 18th SAARC Summit on Thursday. We believe that the energy co-operation deal, if properly implemented, would be beneficial for all SAARC member countries.
Nepal and Bhutan have great potentials energy production especially hydropower. As a matter of fact, many experts believe that these countries can produce enough electricity to satisfy the demand of the whole region.
Bangladesh’s economy is expanding fast and the demand for energy consequently will rise even further. If the country can import relatively cheap electricity from the two neighbouring SAARC countries it would obviously help its growth even more. On the other hand, in the foreseeable future the demand for electricity will not grow much in Nepal and Bhutan considering their small population and present industrial infrastructure. But they will be benefited by earning foreign currency.
However, while the outlook is promising, history shows that signed agreements have not often paper documents. The example of SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area), which was signed a decade back, has yet to become a reality and intra-regional trade remains pitifully poor among the SAARC countries.There are several successful regional organisations in the world, including the European Union, ASEAN and Shanghai-8.
The EU members have common currency and passport but the SAARC has not moved in that direction. Trade volume among the ASEAN members is quite impressive. Unfortunately the tension-ridden India-Pakistan bilateral relations have often been a stumbling block in the path of SAARC reaching its full potential.
SAARC has not been able to realise its full potential also due to the poor connectivity within the member nations. Better connectivity will ramp up trade, provide a fillip to regional tourism and close interaction between South Asia’s peoples.
However, this summit failed to make much headway in that direction. It is the need of the hour that the region must go forward together on economic issues. The member countries have often found it difficult to keep politics out of economic co-operation unlike ASEAN.
Unfortunately this 29-year-old entity has little to show in terms of political consolidation, conflict mitigation, regional harmony, free movement of citizens, intra-regional trade and economic cooperation, financial and monetary integration, etc. The SAARC leadership must do more to become a force compared to ASEAN.
NOVEMBER 29, 2014