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

MD Staff



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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Partnerships key to promoting economic empowerment for rural women in the MENA region




The economic empowerment of rural women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was the topic of a side-event organized by the governments of Italy and Tunisia, in cooperation with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UN Women and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The event featured a range of high-level speakers from Italy, the MENA region, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, and was moderated by Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations in New York. “Women face several barriers to their equal participation in the social, economic and political spheres, and these constraints are felt even more harshly by rural women,” he stated in his opening remarks.

Fatou Haidara, Managing Director of Corporate Management and Operations at UNIDO, highlighted the significance of industrialization in reducing poverty and increasing employment, and the positive benefits of this for women. She referred to the holistic approach adopted by UNIDO in its work in promoting women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the MENA region, stating that both policy and capacity-building dimensions are crucial.

“We have facilitated an ecosystem of knowledge and support, successfully partnering with governments and the private sector to create the foundation for structural change that has mobilized women’s entrepreneurship throughout the region,” she said. “For UNIDO, this project is one step forward in our long-term strategy for enabling women’s economic independence, because the resulting benefits will go beyond women and girls to put us all on the path to achieving the 2030 Agenda.”

The importance of integrating women into the political system was stressed by Neziha Laabidi, Minister of Women, Family and Childhood of the Government of Tunisia, who also highlighted the inclusion of women in Tunisia’s national, multi-sectoral strategy.

Teresa Bellanova, Deputy Minister of Economic Development of Italy drew attention to Italy’s commitment to promoting women’s rights and gender equality and to supporting women entrepreneurs and capacity-building at the local level in light of the radical, recent economic and geographical changes shaping the MENA region’s reality.

The discussion also touched upon issues faced by women in the region, such as access to land rights and discriminatory socio-cultural norms. The need for partnerships to come up with integrated solutions to such issues was addressed by Mohammed Naciri, Regional Director for Arab States, UN Women.

Engagement with the financial sector, including making capital more easily accessible to rural women, was underlined as a key factor in empowering rural women by Emanuele Santi, founder and president of Afrilanthropy, which connects social start-ups in Africa to impact investors. Santi added that creating incentives – for example by giving bonuses to companies that invest in companies led by women and rural women in particular – was another key to success. Finally, he stated that the development community had to “work as an ecosystem” and blend financial support with non-financial support.

The event was held on the sidelines of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), an annual two-week session at the United Nations in New York. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Speaking at the opening of the CSW, UN Secretary- General, António Guterres, stated that the Commission was “leading the way” when it comes to empowering women. “When women are already taking action, we need to listen to them and to support them,” he said. “By building equality, we give women a chance to fulfil their potential. And we also build more stable societies.”

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Four countries on track to graduate from UN list of least developed countries




Four countries could soon “graduate” from the ranks of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable nations, a United Nations expert committee announced on Thursday

Bhutan, Kiribati, Sao Tome and Principe and the Solomon Islands have increased national earning power and improved access to health care and education, making them eligible to exit the group of least developed countries (LDCs).

“This is an historic occasion,” said Jose Antonio Ocampo, chair of the Committee for Development Policy (CDP), noting that only five countries have graduated since the UN established the LDC category in 1971.

LDCs are assessed using three criteria: health and education targets; economic vulnerability and gross national income per capita.

Countries must meet two of the three criteria at two consecutive triennial reviews of the CDP to be considered for graduation.

The Committee will send its recommendations to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for endorsement, which will then refer its decision to the UN General Assembly.

For CDP member Diane Elson, a professor at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, Thursday’s announcement was good news for millions of women in rural areas.

She pointed out that the latest session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), currently under way in New York, is discussing the challenges facing this population.

“The success of the countries that are graduating reflects things like the improvement of the health and the education of the population, which extends to rural women, and the increase in incomes in the country, which extends to rural women,” she said.

However, Ms. Elson stressed that the countries will need continued international support because they remain vulnerable to external shocks, including the impact of climate change.

Mr. Ocampo said this vulnerability is particularly evident in Pacific Island states such as Kiribati.

Globally, there are 47 LDCs, according to the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

The majority, 33, are in Africa, while 13 can be found in the Asia-Pacific region, and one is in Latin America.

In the 47 years of the LDC category’s existence, only five countries have graduated (Botswana, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Maldives and Samoa)

The CDP said two more countries, Vanuatu and Angola, are scheduled for graduation over the next three years.

Nepal and Timor-Leste also met the criteria but were not recommended for graduation at this time, due to economic and political challenges.

That decision will be deferred to the next CDP triennial review in 2021, according to Mr. Ocampo.

Bangladesh, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar met the graduation criteria for the first time but would need to do so for a second time to be eligible for consideration.

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ADB, India Sign $120 Million Loan to Improve Rail Infrastructure




The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India today signed a $120 million loan agreement to complete double-tracking and electrification of railway tracks along high-density corridors in India and improve operational efficiency of the country’s railway networks.

The $120 million financing is the third tranche of a $500 million financing facility for the Railway Sector Investment Program approved by ADB’s Board in 2011. The loan amount will be used to complete the ongoing works started in the project’s first two tranches.

The agreement was signed by Kenichi Yokoyama, ADB Country Director for India, and Sameer Kumar Khare, Joint Secretary (Multilateral Institutions) of the Department of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance, at a ceremony in New Delhi.

“The program will help develop energy efficient, safe, and reliable railway systems that will result in reduced travel time along project rail routes and also reduce annual accident rate,” said Mr. Khare.

“Funding for the project’s third tranche will contribute toward achieving the overall program outputs of double-tracking about 840 kilometers (km) of rail routes and electrification of 640 km of tracks along high density corridors,” said Mr. Yokoyama. “The program is also helping implement new accounting systems and provide additional safety measures including collision avoidance equipment.”

The investment program is targeting busy freight and passenger routes in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Odisha, including the “Golden Quadrilateral” corridor that connects Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, and New Delhi. The doubling of rail sections is being implemented along Daund-Titlagarh section, Sambalpur-Titlagarh section, Raipur-Titlagarh Section, and Hospet-Tinaighat section, while electrification is being undertaken along the 641-km Pune-Wadi Guntakal section.

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