Every fourth person of this planet is a South Asian, said State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam while attending a webinar on Thursday.
"This region-comprising eight countries-accounts for 2 percent of the global GDP and 40 percent of the world's poorest people. The region's economic outlook turned grim with the onset of Covid-19," said the state minister, who represented the South Asian sub-region at the webinar "Virtual Horasis Extraordinary Meeting."
According to World Bank estimates, GDP in the region is projected to contract by 2.7 percent in 2020 because pandemic mitigation measures hinder consumption and service activities, and uncertainty about the pandemic cuts down private investment, said the state minister, according to a press statement.
Shahriar Alam emphasized the importance of acknowledging South Asia's potentials.
"The region faces an uphill task of sustainable development, a significant component of which can best be addressed through a successful intermingling with the rest of the world. The South Asian leadership has taken a lot of important decisions in the recent past, which need successful implementation," said Alam.
The state minister also discussed SAARC. He said, "Established in 1985, the regional organisation, SAARC leaves a lot to expect in terms of integrating the region. The SAARC Motor Vehicle Agreement was scheduled to be signed during the 18th SAARC summit held in Kathmandu in November 2014. However, it could not be signed due to opposition from one particular Member State," reads the statement.
He continued, "The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement was signed in June 2015, which is expected to promote safe and environmentally sound road transportation in the sub-region."
Since 2014, South Asia has been the fastest growing sub-region in the world, with its eight economies collectively boasting average annual growth of 7.0%, said Shahriar Alam.
According to ADB sources, among the relatively smaller economies of South Asia, economic performance has been more varied. Bhutan and Maldives grew by more than 6%, while Nepal, after Afghanistan, grew a little below 5% on average from 2014 to 2018 due to the earthquake in 2015, said the state minister for foreign affairs.
He also pointed out three basic strengths of the South Asian sub-region - firstly, the development vision; secondly, the diversification of the economy, and thirdly, huge internal market.
He also expected that the continued annual growth of 7% will double the size of South Asian economies in the next decade, and that will help reduce the number of people living below the poverty line of $1.9 per day per capita – now more than 200 million, unfortunately this is still the largest in the world.
Despite encouraging signs, South Asia cannot remain complacent. To retain growth, the regional countries have to implement pre-declared reform measures and launch a new wave of structural reforms, particularly in all factors of production such as land, labour and capital, noted the state minister for foreign affairs, according to the press statement.
"Regional cooperation is one of the top foreign policy priorities of the Government of Bangladesh since we firmly believe that it is essential that all the countries of the region develop together for long term stability and sustainable development of this region," said Md Shahriar Alam while concluding his remarks, reads the statement.