Economic Integration and SAARC: What Needs to Change?

Nearly twenty eight years since the establishment of SAARC the views on the effectiveness of the regional grouping are mixed. While progress on many fronts have been slow when compared with similar regional groupings like ASEAN, we must remember that countries in the region face complex security and geo-political challenges that often hinder tighter regional cooperation. Exploring these and other issues, Dr. Saman Kelegama (Executive Director, IPS) recently made a presentation on the prospects for closer regional economic cooperation in South Asia at a regional conference held in Colombo last month on ‘South Asian Economic Integration- A Strategic and Economic Appraisal’. This regional event brought together policymakers and experts from South Asia to explore ways and means of bringing a healthy convergence of Track I and II dialogues on South Asia.

In his presentation, titled ‘Economic Considerations of South Asian Integration’, Dr. Kelegama put forward several key points that would place this agenda on a firmer footing. He spoke of the imperative role that SAARC needs to play in this effort. He identified numerous deficiencies which exist within the organizational structure of SAARC that need to be addressed urgently – it’s vulnerability to regional politics, a lack of trust between member nations, and the heavily bureaucratized decision-making process. Dr. Kelegama went on to propose a number of solutions to increase the effectiveness of the organization which included suggestions to restructure the body and to improve interactions between Track 1 and Track 2 based on the ASEAN model.

India emerging as a global power, he argued, is a strong opportunity for the rest of the South Asian economies. He concluded by stressing the importance of seeing the entire region as a market, in order to stimulate domestic demand generated growth, which would take place with deeper economic integration.

The conference was organized by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) in partnership with the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung at the Taj Samudra Hotel during 11-12th June 2013.

For a news item on the event, click here , for more information on the event, visit the news section of the IPS website, and for pictures of the event, visit the Facebook page of RCSS

Dr. Kelegama’s presentation can be conveniently viewed as a slideshow here.