Conducting comprehensive studies and ensuring necessary investment for education is necessary to utilise the untapped potential of cooperation, trade and integration of the South Asian region, said experts and economists in Dhaka on Sunday.
They also urged think-tanks and civil societies of the region to encourage the governments to promote integrity in South Asia.
The recommendations came in the concluding session of the 14th round of the South Asia Economic Summit hosted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) with the collaboration of some other think-tanks of South Asia.
The experts at the two-day summit emphasised the need to boost aggregate demand across the region and eliminate unhealthy competition to foster a prosperous South Asia. They also advocated for establishing standardised wage, duty, and tax rates applicable to all countries in the region.
Professor Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), presided over the closing session of the event.
He said there is a lot of scepticism and concern over the wider issue of South Asia and the scope for cooperation.
"Despite representing a mere 5% of total international trade, regional trade in South Asia remains active, demonstrating the effectiveness of market mechanisms. The potential for regional trade remains significantly higher than its current level," the economist said.
The eminent economist blamed the government officials behind the lower integration in the region.
He said the governments in the region initiated a plan to operate rail from Bangladesh to Pakistan through India. "The line would connect Bhutan and Nepal Also. But the initiative was postponed due to complexities created by the government officials."
Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the CPD, moderated the session while Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the CPD, presented a summary of the discussion held at the two-day event.
Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, director general of Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), India, said that the Indian government allowed a duty- and quota-free market access for Bangladesh with effect from 2011.
Bangladesh can review to what extent it could capitalise on India's $7.5 billion duty waiver for all LDCs since 2011 is a matter of perception and reality, he said.
Professor Chaturvedi said the research community felt the need to revive the Saarc and build it as an institution. "The region should move on and we create dimensions in investment partnership as per new priority."
He also said more energy needed in terms of how banking and financial architecture can be strengthened.
"It is important to conduct studies and much more and being an academic we should provide leadership rather than being led by politics of the region."
Dr Paras Kharel, executive director of South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment, Nepal, said the Saarc is languishing but it is premature to talk about its burial.
Sharpening geopolitical rivalry is one face of context which is an unfinished agenda, he said adding there are opportunities to utilise under the existing mechanism.
Florian Höllen, head of cooperation of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, emphasised on joint understanding regarding who will do what is required to make the institutions like Saarc more functional.
He said the ambition for cooperation in the region is much higher, the potential also higher than the actual implementation of the efforts. The question needs to be addressed like how to overcome and how to proceed even if a particular process is stuck on a level.
He said the interregional demand is the final backbone of any economy. "Focusing on increasing domestic demand of each country will be helpful for fostering the economic success of the region and stabilising."
He also said that overcoming the unhealthy competition may help to achieve the goal.
Setting an example he said setting a standard of minimum wage which would be on the level of living.
"And also taxes where all countries in the region will benefit and use these funds for the state. And also for necessary investment for education to build a knowledge for innovation and to set up a system of cooperation, innovation for the region," he concluded.
Stefan Liller, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme, Bangladesh, said South Asian regional cooperation in an era of unprecedented challenges as well as opportunities. With global economic currents shifting eastwards, the imperative embracing regional cooperation is paramount to preserve and amplify South Asia's dynamism.
Despite being home to $1.9 billion people boasting impressive economic growth, the potential for intra-regional trade remains untapped, he said.