New Delhi: Ahead of the SAARC summit in the Maldives in November, India has pushed for
"progressive economic integration" of South Asia and underlined
the need for expanding intra-regional trade and investment.
"We all know, of course, that our region is among the least
economically integrated in the world; there are adequate studies
that offer statistics in this regard," External Affairs Minister
S.M. Krishna said Thursday night at a dinner in honour of
representatives from South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) countries participating in the first South
"However, for me, the litmus test of integration is really whether
we are able to make it viable for our businesses to expand
intra-regional trade and investment flows," Krishna said while
urging the forum to "assemble a robust argument in favour of
progressive integration of the region".
"If this can be incentivised either through policy measures or by
means of forward-looking steps by our premier chambers of commerce
and industry, the connective tissue of a South Asian economic
community can begin to be created," he said.
The two-day South Asia Forum started Thursday, with an inaugural
address by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning
Commission. The overarching theme for the first South Asia Forum
would be "Integration in South Asia: Moving Towards a South Asian
Touted as a Track 1.5 initiative, the South Asia Forum brings
together government functionaries businessmen, media and academics
to generate 'out of box ideas' for facilitating greater regional
economic integration and people-to-people contact in the region.
Krishna also called for enhancing the participation of civil
society in the SAARC integration process.
"However, for future editions of the Forum, we may perhaps need to
consider widening representation from civil society, media,
academia and business, while proportionately reducing the scale
and extent of governmental presence," he said.
"It is only through an expansion in the number of stake-holders in
the processes of regional cooperation that we can create a
critical mass in favour of deepening and widening integration in
our region. The South Asia Forum creates precisely such a
platform," he said.
The Maldives will host the two-day SAARC summit at its capital
Male beginning Nov 10. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri
Lanka, the Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan are part of SAARC.