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India Must Do More to Integrate South Asia’s $2.5 Trillion Common Market

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South Asia is the fastest-growing region economically in the world, but regional cooperation remains more an opportunity than a reality.

Cooperation among South Asian nations is hampered by the historical circumstances under which they were born. “A series of groups with vested interests continues to benefit from the political economy of conflict and the status quo,” said Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade of Sri Lanka. The minister added that “most countries are too preoccupied with internal consolidation to invest political capital in regional integration.” He urged India and Pakistan, the two largest economies in the region, to find a way of working together as a prerequisite for wider economic cooperation across South Asia.

The regional community is fragmented along security and religious lines, said A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal, Minister for Planning of Bangladesh, but cricket is the one “common religion,” he joked. On a more serious note, the minister highlighted the urgency of exploiting shared resources. North-East India, Bhutan and Nepal, for example, have the potential to create 80,000 MW of hydro-electric power – “but have we ever tried?”

South Asia has an economic value of around $2.5 trillion. The sheer size of this market is useful in global bargaining, said Richard Rekhy, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner, KPMG, India. “Imagine what can be done” if the region connected through Bangladesh to South-East Asia, a market of similar size, he said. The density of accountants in Sri Lanka and India could turn the region into the world’s accounting powerhouse. Natural resources, including gas and hydro-electricity, transport and textiles are all vital areas for regional cooperation.

“You can be nice to your neighbours if you’re happy in your own house first,” observed Siraj Azmat Chaudhry, Chairman of Cargill India. However, there remain many domestic challenges to a common regional market – for example, India’s ease of doing business. Global companies do not yet view South Asia as one market, while India is viewed state by state. India’s recent success in pushing through the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has begun to unify her internal markets and provides a springboard for India to play a pivotal role in regional cooperation.

“India is to blame,” said Samir Saran, Vice-President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India: “We have not done enough as the largest market in the region to promote regional connectivity.” For too long, India has been looking to the West rather than the East – “we feared getting our feet wet.” As the existing global order of free trade stumbles, South Asia needs to create her own trading arrangements. “Regional integration is no longer an option; it is a compulsion,” underlined Saran.

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Mexico officially joins IEA: First member in Latin America

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Mexico officially became the International Energy Agency’s 30th member country on 17 February 2018, and its first member in Latin America. The membership came after the signed IEA treaty (the IEP Agreement) was deposited with the government of Belgium, which serves as the depository state, following ratification by the Mexican Senate.

Mexico’s accession is a cornerstone of the IEA’s on-going modernization strategy, including “opening the doors” of the IEA to engage more deeply with emerging economies and the key energy players of Latin America, Asia and Africa, towards a secure, sustainable and affordable energy future.

The IEA Family of 30 Member countries and seven Association countries now accounts for more than 70% of global energy consumption, up from less than 40% in 2015.

“With this final step, Mexico enters the most important energy forum in the world,” said Joaquín Coldwell, Mexico’s Secretary of Energy. “We will take our part in setting the world’s energy policies, receive experienced advisory in best international practices, and participate in emergency response exercises.”

“It is a historic day because we welcome our first Latin American member country, with more than 120 million inhabitants, an important oil producer, and a weighty voice in global energy,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “The ambitious and successful energy reforms of recent years have put Mexico firmly on the global energy policy map.”

At the last IEA Ministerial Meeting, held in Paris in November 2017, ministers representing the IEA’s member countries unanimously endorsed the rapid steps Mexico was taking to become the next member of the IEA, providing a major boost for global energy governance.

They recognized that Mexico had taken all necessary steps in record time to meet international membership requirements since its initial expression of interest in November 2015. In December, the Mexican Senate ratified the IEP Agreement paving the way for the deposit of the accession instrument and for membership to take effect.

Mexico is the world’s 15th-largest economy and 12th-largest oil producer, and has some of the world’s best renewable energy resources. The IEA family will benefit greatly from Mexico’s contribution on discussion about the world’s energy challenges. The IEA is delighted to continue supporting implementation of Mexico’s energy reform with technical expertise, and further intensifying the fruitful bilateral dialogue of energy policy best practice exchange.

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Guterres: Korean nuclear crisis, Middle East quagmire eroding global security

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Conflicts are becoming more and more interrelated and more and more related to a set of a new global terrorism threat  to all of us,” Mr. Guterres said in his keynote address at the opening ceremony on Friday of the Munich Security Conference.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the world is facing the threat of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which he called “a development made in total contradiction to the will of the international community and in clear violation of several resolutions of the Security Council.”

He said that it was essential to maintain “meaningful pressure over North Korea” to create an opportunity for diplomatic engagement on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula within a regional framework.

“The two key stakeholders in relation to this crisis, the United States and [DPRK]” must be able to “come together and have a meaningful discussion on these issues,” he said, adding that it is “important not to miss the opportunity of a peaceful resolution through diplomatic engagement as a military solution would be a disaster with catastrophic consequences that we cannot even be able to imagine.”

The situation in the broader Middle East, which the UN chief said had become a “Gordian knot,” was also eroding global security, with that are crises that are “crossing each other and interconnected.”

Pointing to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, among others, Mr. Guterres said the entire Middle East has “became a mess,” with varied and intersecting fault lines.

He warned of the absence of a common vision in the region and said that even if interests are contradictory, the threats these conflicts represent would justify some efforts to come together.

Turning to cyber-security, Mr. Guterres called for a serious discussion about the international legal framework in which cyberwars take place.

“I can guarantee that the United Nations would be ready to be a platform in which different actors could come together and discuss the way forward, to find the adequate approaches to make sure that we are able to deal with the problem of cybersecurity,” he said, noting that artificial intelligence provides “enormous potential for economic development, social development and for the well-being for all of us.”

The Secretary-General said that Governments and others have been unable to manage human mobility. He warned that this had created mistrust and doubts about globalism and multilateralism.

“This is a reason why,” he said, “we need to be able to unite, we need to be able to affirm that global problems can only be addressed with global solutions and that multilateralism is today more necessary than ever.”

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Supporting tourism development in Africa through better measurement

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In an effort to better measure tourism growth and development in Africa, UNWTO signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation for the Strengthening of the National Tourism Statistical System of Nigeria and the Development of a Tourism Satellite Account.

UNWTO is committed to developing tourism measurement for furthering knowledge of the sector, monitoring progress, evaluating impact, promoting results-focused management, and highlighting strategic issues for policy objectives.

On the occasion of the meeting between UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, and the Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria, Mr. Lai Mohammed, the agreement to host the Sixty-First meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Africa and the Seminar on ‘Tourism Statistics: A Catalyst for Development’ in Nigerian capital, Abuja, from 4 to 6 June 2018, was signed.

The meetings will be open to the participation of UNWTO Member States and Affiliate Members, as well as invited delegations and representatives of the tourism and related sectors. Officials of immigration departments, national statistics bureaus, central banks and other relevant stakeholders will be invited to join.

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