Pokhara (Nepal), March 17: Connectivity is central to the development of south Asian nations, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Thursday, March 17.
"Connectivity is central to our development and will determine how we meet our goals of growth, employment, and prosperity," Sushma Swaraj said while addressing the 37th session of the council of ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).
"As we seek to overcome basic problems of physical connectivity, it is important for us to move forward quickly on pending agreements on rail and motor vehicles," she said.
"Economic activities, cultural connections and people to people contacts will flow naturally from such connectivity."
According to Sushma Swaraj, the south Asian region is hailed today as having the potential to be the front-runner of growth and prosperity.
"It is one of the fastest growing regions of the world. We have taken some important decisions to integrate our economies through Safta (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) and South Asian Trade in Services Agreement," she said.
"These need to be developed and consolidated further if we are to achieve a South Asian Economic Union."
Citing statistics, the Indian external affairs minister said the south Asian region accounted for merely 2 percent of world trade and 1.7 percent of the world's foreign direct investments (FDI).
"Our intra-regional trade is less than 6 percent of our global trade and intra-regional FDI accounts for only three percent of total FDI inflows," she said.
Sushma Swaraj lamented that despite strong growth and huge advances in education, healthcare and rural development, the south Asian region still had the world's largest number of people living below the poverty line.
"We continue to face significant challenges in delivering food security, health, nutrition and education to our peoples," she said.
"All this goes to show that while we are doing well individually, we have not been able to unleash our collective strength effectively. We must think innovatively and find solutions so that we may harness our economic complementarities and ensure a conducive environment for rapid growth."
She said the Indian government has shown its commitment to a "neighbourhood first" policy from its very first day in office.
"Our vision of 'Sabka saath, sabka vikas' is for the whole Saarcregion. Together, we can create a viable ecosystem of regional integration, cooperation and socio-economic development," she said.
Stating that India was prepared to work within the Saarc community to realise the region's developmental goals, Sushma Swaraj said Indian universities were open for Saarc citizens.
"We are committed to supporting campus and infrastructure development of the South Asian University that has been established exclusively for the students of the region," she said.
"We have moved forward on unilateral initiatives that we announced at the last summit for sharing Indian scientific and technological progress with the Saarc community.
"These include, among others, a dedicated satellite for Saarc to support applications in health, education, disaster response, weather forecasting and communications for our people; establishment of a supra-national laboratory to combat diseases like TB and AIDS; creation of a Saarc-wide Knowledge Network to interlink our students, academic and research communities; and organisation of the first Saarc Annual Disaster Management Exercise."
Sushma Swaraj also sought support for a Saarc Environment and Disaster Management Centre in India.
Observing that Saarc was about positive synergy that would allow each of its members to achieve their full potential, she said: "We must recognise that we have common enemies in poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and environmental degradation. We will need to fight these challenges together since we have a shared history, and a shared destiny."