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Prosperity and Growth through Regional Cooperation
Opening Remarks by Thevakumar Kandiah, Country Director, ADB Bangladesh Resident Mission, at the Seminar.
Honorable Minister for Foreign Affairs (Dr. Dipu Moni, M. P.), Honorable Adviser to the Prime Minister (Dr. Masihur Rahman), President of MCCI (Major General Amjad Khan Chowdhury), Director General of ADB's South Asia Department (Sultan Hafeez Rahman), distinguished participants, representatives from MCCI and the private sector, academia, development partners, and media; ADB colleagues; ladies and gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure in welcoming you all to this interesting seminar on "Prosperity and Growth through Regional Cooperation". The seminar has acquired added importance because of its timing—it is being held at a time when significant breakthroughs are expected in a wide range of initiatives for regional cooperation in South Asia. These initiatives could make a major difference in the lives of the people in this region.
II. ADB Focus on Regional Cooperation, and Importance of Regional Cooperation
Ladies and gentlemen, as enshrined in its Charter, ADB has been focusing on Regional Cooperation and Integration (RCI) from the very outset. RCI is also one of the three strategic agendas under ADB's long-term strategic framework (Strategy 2020), which, in addition, emphasizes inclusive growth and environmentally sustainable development. Strategy 2020 envisages that ADB will progressively increase its RCI activities to at least 30% of its total operations by 2020.
RCI opportunities in South Asia are immense. Although South Asia has made impressive gains in terms of economic growth—the region, with one-fourth of the world population, accounts for only 3% of global GDP. Close to two-fifths of the population are classified as poor—living on less than US$1.25 a day. The region's social indicators also do not compare too favorably with most other regions. South Asia needs to grow more rapidly and inclusively to bring prosperity and happiness in the lives of the large mass of people living in the countries of the region.
RCI can play a critical role in achieving the long term development objectives of South Asia. Through expanding RCI, South Asia will be able to harness the economies of scale, and cost advantages stemming from the huge regional market. This would also contribute to faster economic growth and rapid reduction in poverty. RCI can also help address the large infrastructure deficits in South Asia that have held back the region's more rapid progress through developing cross-border infrastructure e.g. trade facilitation and transport connectivity, and power exchange. RCI can also be helpful in addressing common social and environmental concerns through enhancing provision of regional public goods such as efficient rivers system management, environmental safeguards, reducing air and water pollution, responding to the effects of climate change and managing disaster risks, and controlling communicable diseases.
III. ADB Strategy for Regional Integration
ADB's support for RCI programs has involved policy development, project financing, technical assistance, and knowledge dissemination. To help scale up RCI initiatives in South Asia, ADB has prepared a regional cooperation strategy for South Asia to make the region able to realize its full potential in economic and social development, and contribute to wider Asian integration. Later this morning, my colleagues will share with us, other aspects of ADB's RCI Strategy for South Asia and some of the important background work that has been done in the area of transport connectivity, energy trade and trade facilitation. Bangladesh can play a critical role in fostering regional cooperation in South Asia and beyond. The country's strategic location, with access to both land and sea, allows it to become an important hub for trade and investment within South Asia, and between South Asia and East Asia.
Bangladesh could also potentially address its energy constraints by establishing power grid connectivity (including hydro power) with Bhutan, Nepal and the North-eastern states of India.
ADB's new Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Bangladesh for the period 2011-2015 (expected to be endorsed by ADB Board later in the year) attaches high priority to harnessing emerging opportunities to foster regional cooperation. The CPS would provide support for regional cooperation to deepen Bangladesh's integration into a rapidly growing South Asia region. ADB will scale up support for pioneering national projects that have strong regional implications including regional power grid, rail, highway, ports, bridges and trade logistic projects. ADB will also support participation of Bangladesh in SAARC, BIMSTEC, and SASEC initiatives, aimed at harmonizing policies, strategies, plans and investments conducive to subregional economic cooperation in transport, energy, environment, tourism, trade and ICT. Finally, during the CPS period, ADB will help develop knowledge products that build awareness and contribute to the exchange of good practices.
In 2010, ADB approved the Bangladesh-India Electric Grid Interconnection Project—the project is expected to be completed in 2012 and will for the first time, facilitate power trade between Bangladesh and India. ADB had earlier approved an information highway project to improve cross-border ICT infrastructure and connectivity between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal; and a tourism project, which will provide the infrastructure for regional tourism to connect the Buddhist circuits in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
Achieving the vision of a fully integrated and seamless Asia will be a long drawn process. The challenges are immense and quite daunting but the payback in terms of shared growth and prosperity is huge. Progress is being made, but a lot more needs to be done. ADB is fully committed to help its developing member countries achieve the goal of greater regional integration. In South Asia―the policy makers, academics, private sector, civil society and development partners and overall the citizens--all have vital roles to play in enabling the region to achieve the goal of closer regional cooperation and integration for the common good and benefit for all people of this region.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me welcome you once again to this seminar. I want to thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules. I would also like to thank MCCI for co-hosting the seminar with ADB, and in doing the large amount of preparatory work leading to the hosting of the seminar. We look forward to interesting presentations and floor discussions. Thank you.