Seminar on Regional Connectivity in South Asia: Prospects for Cooperation in Transport & Communication
A Seminar on Regional Connectivity in South Asia jointly organized by the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) held in Colombo on 28th July 2011.
The seminar attempted to scrutinized the current state of regional connectivity, need for improved regulatory and physical infrastructure developments of the connectivity and suggestions for improving and addressing the current impediments and future challenges relating to the regional connectivity.
The seminar proceedings were stimulated by the ADB funded SAARC Multi-Model Transport Study conducted on the initiative of 12th SAARC Summit and the “Declaration of Decade of (2010-2020) Inter-Regional Connectivity in SAARC” at the sixteenth SAARC Summit held in Bhutan, 2010.
The private sector apex trade and industry organizations in the SAARC region were somewhat disappointed due to slow progress of the implementation of the findings of the ADB study and the progress of the implementation of the Declaration. Hence, the seminar was organized to provide concrete, specific and pragmatic inputs from the private sector stakeholders to the public sector policy formulators and trade negotiators to achieve the enhanced regional connectivity which is a sine-quo-non for better regional trade and investment interaction among the private sector business practitioners for the improvement of income, employment and the general living conditions of the people in the region.
It is encouraging and inspiring to note that Professor G.L. Peiris, Hon. Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka during his key note address emphasized that the “10 Points Programme” proposed by the President of SAARC CCI “provides valuable materials for further reflections.” The private sector business community in the region earnestly looks forward for further reflection and concrete plan on this subject by the political authorities of SAARC at their next summit in Male.
In this process, the SAARC CCI recognizing the pragmatic value provided for the business development by the regional connectivity selected the theme as “Peace and Prosperity through Regional Connectivity” for its flagship 04th Annual Business Leaders Conclave to be held in Kathmandu, 20-22 September, 2011.
The Seminar found a number of short-comings and imperfections of network linkages and physical infrastructure facilities which act as impediments for business development in the region. With regard to insufficient passenger and cargo connectivity through modes of Air, some of the resource persons narrated their difficulties in arriving even to the seminar venue in Colombo due to non-availability of sufficient direct flights Dhaka-Colombo sector and Kathmandu-Colombo sector.
It is also cited that a container takes 35 days to move from New Delhi to Dhaka and vice-versa as the current maritime route is via Bombay or Singapore/Colombo to Chittagong Port and then by rail to Dhaka. However, the same container can be moved between Dhaka/New Delhi within five days if there is direct railway connectivity between Dhaka and New Delhi. Similarly, moving a container from Dhaka to Lahore required traveling 7,162 Kms by sea instead of 2,300Kms across India by rail or surface transport, because of overland movement across India is not allowed at present.
There were instances where the prevailing trade and transit agreements between some of the member countries encountered difficulties due to political compulsions. Naturally these types of impediments cause difficulties particularly for the Land-Lock countries in the region.
It is also observed that the strategic location of Sri Lanka provides ample opportunities for the development of Ports and Air Port Hubs for the transit trade of goods and passengers, not only for the region, but also beyond the region. It is also noted that Sri Lankan Air Line flies more than hundred flights per week to Indian cities while Mihin Air serves Colombo-Dhaka sector. Sri Lankan Air Lines also have daily air connectivity to the Maldives. Mihin Air flies to Kathmandu mainly catering for Pilgrim passengers. It is suggested that more frequent air connectivity between Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives which are favoured foreign tourists destinations would be mutually beneficial if the countries involved can offer “Sandwich Tourist Packages.”
The Seminar also attempted to address the current impediments of regional connectivity. The President of the SAARC CCI Mr. Annisul Huq proposed a “Ten Point Road Map” for further reflections, as follows:
- Implementation of transit trade as per the provisions of GATT Article V and SAFTA Agreement and finalize proposed Agreement on Regional Motor Vehicles, Railways, Inland water transport and short shipping.
- Development of infrastructural projects such as up gradation of Petropol-benepole corridor, Development of Bagdogra airport, Improvement of Wagha-Lahore Rail link and expansion of Colombo Port as a Trans-shipment hub.
- Standardization, simplification and harmonization of custom documentations and proceedings, cross border charges and fees and testing and certification procedures, while introducing electronic cargo clearance and IT facilities at land and sea ports.
- Introduction of green channels, fast track multi-model transport channel and corridors, integrated container terminals, feeder services, dry port and modern traffic control and tracking system.
- Improve sub-regional land and internal water connectivity, particularly in the North-Eastern part of the sub-continent.
- Implementation of Transit Trade Agreement between Bangladesh and India and between Afghanistan, India and Pakistan
- Promotion and development of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar (APIBM) Transport Corridor through the Asian Highway, Tans-Asian Highway and Land and Sea-Routes as corridors to ASEAN Countries, China, Central Asia and West Asia.
- An open sky policy regime for aviation sector.
- A Single SIM for mobile phones in South Asia.
- A single energy Bank for South Asia.
In addition to the above 10 point road map, the seminar also identifies the following areas which have potential to provide impetus for enhancing the connectivity in the region.
- In addition to improving physical connectivity, the strong linkages in the social, cultural and scientific fields should be encouraged.
- Closer collaboration between Chambers of Commerce and Industry and private sector business practitioners of the South Asian Region.
- Identification of priority areas of investment and trade where private sector of the region could create synergies in areas of mutual interest.
- Implementation of resolutions already agreed upon by the SAARC on multi-mode transport systems.
- Investments in establishing a South Asian re-insurance facilities and a fund to serve the growing insurance industry in the region.
- Dismantle items which are highly tradable but now figured in the negative list in the SAFTA Agreement.
- Providing facilities to increase issuance of SAARC Business Visa from hundred visas to thousand visas while keeping the validity period of the visa at least to one year for facilitating business interaction among the entrepreneurs of the region.
- Open Air Aviation Policy along does not improve the connectivity in the region. The Open Air Aviation Policy will deliver the desired results provided that the countries should diversify their tourists’ products and services from the current traditional tourism products.
The apex body of the business practitioners in the region earnestly wishes that the proposals discussed at the seminar would be taken on board by the governmental policy formulators and trade negotiators while interacting with their counterparts in the region. Improved connectivity is no doubt would be mutually beneficial to all the parties.
(This note prepared by the Research and Policy Advocacy Unit of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL). Notifications of this nature could be accessed by visiting our blog at www.blog.fccisl.lk)