Enhancing regional cooperation among countries has come to the fore as challenges and uncertainties rise amid the Russia-Ukraine war and changing geopolitical dynamics. Analysts said that the South Asian bloc, one of the least integrated regions in the world, may finally “wake up to the need” to integrate and expand economic and political cooperation. Foreign policy watchers said that countries, in this region, need to focus on the commonalities and issues that have been amicably resolved rather than picking on those which continue to plague.
“We must shed our rigidities and move towards making the bloc a success,” Nazneen Ahmed, Country Economist at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangladesh told India Narrative earlier.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four day visit to India beginning today is being seen as a step forward towards strengthening cooperation in the region. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Dhaka, his first overseas trip since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. As part of his Neighbourhood First approach, he also visited Nepal in May to be part of the Buddha Jayanti.
Currently, intraregional trade among the South Asian countries accounts for barely 5 per cent compared to 25 per cent the ASEAN region. A World Bank blog said that trade among South Asian countries currently totals just $23 billion — far below an estimated value of at least $67 billion.
During this visit, Modi and Hasina are slated to ink a host of agreements which include important ones related to power and river water sharing besides connectivity.
“Bangladesh is of strategic importance to us and when it comes to such important partners and neighbours, it is important to go beyond just economic benefits,” Ashwani Mahajan national co-convenor of Swadeshi Jagran Manch said. He added that there is an urgent need to give shape to the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two countries.
Integration of economic activities, trade and investments will be critical for both countries as they prepare for a post Covid growth phase.
“We do have our concerns no doubt, but we should not overplay this. I think Bangladesh’s relationship with India is mutually rewarding. If there is goodwill on both sides, attendant concerns can be addressed,” Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue told The Business Standard (Bangladesh).
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