Regional integration can play a significant role in the post-pandemic resilience of South Asian economies as it might help increase investment and trade, said experts from the region.
Experts from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, on Monday, discussed their observations on economic and geopolitical issues during and after the pandemic in a virtual discussion arranged by the Indian Chamber of Commerce.
They said in the post-Covid-19 environment, to compete with better integrated clusters of economies – like East and South-East Asian ones – South Asia should focus on integration that helps the effective movement of investments, goods, services, and expertise.
Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said after the pandemic, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, IT and communication, and food and agriculture are the sectors that the block of eight countries need to keep in mind for integration.
Education and human resources will also be fields that need regional attention, she added.
The Bangladeshi economist said different estimates suggest that global trade might fall 13-32 percent this year and regional cooperation is more relevant in such times.
The webinar titled "Regional Integration and Repositioning South Asia in the Post-Covid-19 Scenario" was moderated by Dr Prabir De, head of Asian-India Centre in New Delhi.
Citing some examples, he said many company and state strategists are planning to reduce their dependence on China plus relocate their investment destinations and supply chain sources. However, South Asian countries, including India, lag behind ASEAN-bloc players like Vietnam.
"The country, having industrialised far later, better catches investors' eyes when it comes to manufacturing and shipping products like smartphones. Along with a supportive maritime infrastructure, over two dozen free trade agreements – including one with the regional bloc – have helped Vietnam gain momentum," said the professor at Research and Information System for Developing Countries.
"South Asian integration initiatives proved inadequate, while the borders and infrastructure – with less connectivity – hindered logistics among the countries here, which also lag behind on the World Bank's 'Doing Business' index," said Shippers' Academy Colombo's Founder Chairman Rohan Masacorala.
Referring to South Asia's image as that of the most protectionist regions in the world, he has recommended integration efforts for the easier flow of goods among regional economies.
Dr Arpita Mukharjee, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, and Sanjay Chaturvedi, professor of international relations at the South Asian University, also participated in the discussion.