SunakhariNews/ Kathmandu – While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated powerful trends
towards de-globalization, looking inwards by abandoning regional cooperation is not a solution for the
South Asian countries and an improved connectivity and cooperation through renewed political
commitment to regional and sub-regional initiatives can benefit the region and engender the much
needed reforms in multilateralism and globalization, according to the experts in a virtual meeting
organized by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) in association with
Biruni Institute, Afghanistan; Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh; Research and Information
System for Developing Countries (RIS), India; Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan;
and Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), Colombo.
A prominent panel of speakers offered their insights on the future of intra-regional and extra-regional integration in South Asia, initiatives needed to harness the potential of intra-regional supply chains, dealing with an increasingly digitalized world, and how South Asia could navigate the apparent changes in the global order, in the second virtual meeting titled “Future of Globalization: Outlook for South Asian countries”. In his keynote speech, Dr. Baikuntha Aryal, Secretary (Commerce) at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Nepal, asserted that enhancing mutual trust is the fundamental factor needed to deepen regional integration in South Asia in a way that produces tangible outcomes. Dr. Aryal offered way- forward for deepening regional integration in South Asia, which includes, “establishing strong supply chains, improving trade infrastructure and connectivity, following the regional growth patterns carefully, embracing the use of digital technologies, improving the business environment, and improving mutual cooperation”.
Other speakers highlighted that a complete reversal of globalization is not possible and hence South
Asian countries should treat the current crisis as an opportunity to improve their regional and sub-
regional approaches and reshape the multilateral initiatives to make the globalization more beneficial to
them. Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General at Research and Information System for Developing Countries
(RIS), New Delhi, emphasized that the current regional integration approach in South Asia has been a
hostage to an obsession of economists with trade integration at the expense of other valuable linkages.
“The time has come to go beyond this paradigm and give more credence to people-to-people contact
and enhance production networks” mentioned Prof. Chaturvedi. He also mentioned that multilateralism
is essential for South Asia’s progress but some reforms in institutional mechanisms, either at regional or
sub-regional level, might be necessary.
Dr. Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka, stressed that
while the nature of globalization may change, a complete reversal is not possible. “Degrees of inter-
dependence may change and densities of trans-boundary interactions may take a different
characteristics in the post-COVID world, but we cannot think of a world that is not interdependent in
one way or the other,” maintained Dr. Khatun. She further highlighted that a number of trans-boundary
issues will be important for regional cooperation—primarily, reduction of poverty, dealing with climate
change issues, dealing with increased use of technology brought by the impending 4 th Industrial
Revolution, among others.
Ms. Subhashini Abeysinghe, Research Director at Verite Research, Colombo, mentioned that even with
the ongoing US-China trade war, it is not going to be easy to unplug these supply chains that have been
built for decades; hence globalization might undergo some changes but will remain an important force.
Ms. Abeysinghe also emphasized the need for economists and policy makers to be more sensitive to
ground realities as insensitivities towards people directly affected have been the main source of
backlash against regionalization and globalization. Similarly, she highlighted the need to build
confidence and trust, for instance through reducing non-tariff barriers, to deepen the regional
integration in South Asia.
Additionally, the speakers discussed several issues such as attracting foreign investments; labour
migration and remittances; opportunities and challenges associated with digitalization; among others.
SAWTEE, in association with other prominent think-tanks in the region, has been hosting a series of
virtual meetings from 22 September to 16 October to deliberate on various socio-economic aspects of
the COVID-19 pandemic, how they relate to South Asia and what should be the future course of action
for South Asian countries.