Introductory Remarks at South Asia Regional Department Book Launch

Speech | 11 November 2009

Welcome and introductory remarks by Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB Vice President, at the South Asia Regional Department book launch, Manila, Philippines

Dear guests, ladies and gentleman,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to ADB Headquarters for the launch of four new publications that, we hope, will make a valuable contribution with a special focus on South Asia's continued economic and social development.

The British philosopher John Locke noted that "The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others." At ADB, we recognize that knowledge is a powerful catalyst for development. And we are committed both to increasing our own knowledge of development issues, and to sharing it widely to propel development forward.

The South Asia Department prepares a variety of economic, thematic, and sector knowledge products to support the preparation, design, implementation, and ultimate impact of ADB's assistance in South Asia. The four publications we are launching today will add to the body of knowledge available to all of us for supporting economic and social development in South Asia and beyond. Let me give you a brief overview of each of these.

First, we are very pleased to launch today our new Study on Intraregional Trade and Investment in South Asia, which has been financed by the Australia-Asian Development Bank South Asia Development Partnership Facility. On behalf of ADB, I would like to thank Aus AID for their support of this important initiative.

The report shows that, while there is still some resistance to South Asian regional cooperation, South Asia is now more open to the policies of liberalization and openness than has been the case in the past. The establishment of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 1985, the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement signed in 1993, and the free trade (South Asian Free Trade Area—SAFTA) signed in 2004 were significant milestones in regional cooperation.

We all do know that much more needs to be done to bring about the desired expansion in trade and investment, and to forge closer ties both within and outside the region. This study generates greater movement toward these ends in its proposals for several sectors of the economy and countries including Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. And it recommends broad, parallel initiatives to broaden and deepen existing cooperation and integration in regional trade and investment.

The second publication is the South Asia Economic Report: Financial Sector in South Asia; Recent Developments and Challenges, which assesses the recent performance and development of South Asia's financial sector against the backdrop of a deteriorating outlook for the region.

Financial sector development is crucial to support sustainable economic growth. A robust financial sector can also contribute to poverty reduction by expanding financial services and increasing the poor's access to and use of these services. Although liberalization and reform have deepened domestic financial markets in the region, challenges remain. These include the lack of legal foundations for financial services and commercial transactions, the failure to apply best practices in regulation and supervision of financial institutions and markets, and limited outreach of the formal finance sector.

The third is the Occasional Paper entitled: Sanitation in India; Progress, Differences, Correlates, and Challenges. We all know that improved sanitation is essential for reducing ill health, child mortality, and lost income associated with morbidity. Moreover, it is essential for human dignity, quality of life and environmental sustainability. MDG workshop with SAARC members in Kathmandu.

The study highlights several key findings that can help fine-tune efforts to improve sanitation in India. It confirms that, although progress has been made in the last decade, the unmet need for access to sanitation is huge. Further, access to universal sanitation is hindered in South Asia by a number of social, cultural, geographical, and economic disparities. To bridge these access gaps, the paper recommends a strong focus on the disadvantaged and the states that have consistently underperformed.

The final publication focuses on: Countries in Transition; A Brief Review of the Emerging Political Economy of Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal. Development is not merely an economic phenomenon; political economy considerations have a strong impact on economic development, in particularly in developing countries. This study looks at the emerging political economy of Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal - all of which have held historically significant elections within the last year or so.

As this report shows, the four countries share similar concerns, including the global economic slowdown, the need for second- generation reforms in their political economies, and the need to ensure inclusive growth. In this context, governments will need to focus on visioning, continued political reforms (including decentralization or devolution and accountability of public institutions), and proper management of the economy.

The immediate years ahead will pose substantial challenges to the governments unless concerted action is taken to mainstream development, further reform their economies, make the political process more inclusive, and ensure the proper accountability of public institutions.

In closing, I would like to thank all of you for your interest and commitment to development in our Asia and Pacific Region, with today's focus being with South Asia. The challenges ahead are many and include the very important challenges of regional cooperation and integration, financial sector development, sanitation, and countries in transition. Let us work together to address these challenges to improve the lives of the peoples living in our Asia-Pacific Region, especially the poor.