Pitching for freer movement of goods, services and people across South Asia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday warned the region that it faces the risk of “marginalisation and stagnation” if members fail to build SAARC as a group that is connected and empowered.
Addressing the 16th SAARC Summit here, he regretted that the share of intra-regional trade and investment in total trade and investment flows in the region was far below that of East and South-East Asia.
“The 21st century cannot be an Asian century unless South Asia marches together,” Singh said as he underlined the need for translating regional institutions into activities, conventions into programmes and official statements into popular sentiments.
“I have a vision of inclusive growth in South Asia both within our countries and for the region of South Asia as a whole,” Singh told the Summit attended by leaders from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
“Regional and sub-regional imbalances in growth affect all of us in varying degrees, and have led to social unrest,” he said, adding, “This will require much greater attention in the future, with an emphasis on development at the grassroots level.”
Pressing for greater regional cooperation, he said it should enable freer movement of people, of goods, of services and of ideas.
“It should help us re-discover our shared heritage and build our common future,” Singh said.
He said South Asia can once again become part of global trading routes and networks and “influence the global discourse” on issues of concern to the region. “If we do not, we run the risk of marginalisation and stagnation.”
He noted that SAARC countries are able to cooperate individually as members in various international fora.
Singh said over the last two-and-a-half decades South Asian sub-continent has been witness to much progress. “Yet, each one of our countries, and our region as a whole, has a long way to go in fulfilling the aspirations of our people,”he said.
He said the SAARC countries should “challenge ourselves by acknowledging that the glass of regional cooperation, regional development and regional integration is half empty”.