With an eye on China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, the US today called for increasing connectivity in the South Asia region, saying it is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world.
From Silk Routes to Grand Trunk Roads, South Asia was for millennia a region bound together by the exchange of goods, people, and ideas, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a top American think-tank.
“But today it is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world; intra-regional trade has languished sitting around four or five per cent of total trade,” rued the top American diplomat ahead of his visit to India next week.
Compare that with ASEAN, where intra-regional trade stands at 25 per cent of total trade, he said.
The World Bank estimates that with barriers removed and streamlined customs procedures, intra-regional trade in South Asia would nearly quadruple: from the current USD 28 billion to over USD 100 billion, he said.
One of the goals of greater connectivity, he said, is providing nations in the Indo-Pacific the right options when it comes to sustainable development.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation is one model of how it can be achieved, he added.
The programme is committed to data, accountability, and evidence-based decision-making to foster the right circumstances for private investment.
Last month, the US and Nepal signed a USD 500 million compact agreement the first with a South Asian nation to invest in infrastructure to meet growing electricity and transportation needs in Nepal, and to promote more trade linkages with partners in the region, like India, he said.
“The US and India must look for more opportunities to grow this connectivity and our own economic links, even as we look for more ways to facilitate greater development and growth for others in the region,” he said.
He also called for the two countries to do more in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We also must recognize that many Indo-Pacific nations have limited alternatives when it comes to infrastructure investment programs and financing schemes, which often fail to promote jobs or prosperity for the people they claim to help,” he said.
“It’s time to expand transparent, high-standard regional lending mechanisms tools that will actually help nations instead of saddle them with mounting debt. India and the US must lead the way in growing these multilateral efforts,” Tillerson said.
“We must do a better job leveraging our collective expertise to meet common challenges, while seeking even more avenues of cooperation to tackle those that are to come. There is a need and we must meet the demand,” he said. LKJ ZH