Strengthening regional cooperation between the countries has become a priority as challenges and uncertainties increase in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war and changing geopolitical dynamics. Analysts said the South Asian bloc, one of the least integrated regions in the world, could finally “wake up to the need” to integrate and expand economic and political cooperation. Foreign policy watchers have said countries in this region need to focus on commonalities and issues that have been amicably resolved rather than tackling those that continue to torment.
“We have to let go of our rigidities and make this bloc a success,” Nazneen Ahmed, country economist at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Bangladesh, told India Narrative earlier.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four-day visit to India from today is seen as a step towards enhancing cooperation in the region. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Dhaka, his first trip abroad since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. As part of his Neighborhood First approach, he also visited Nepal in May to be part of the Buddha Jayanti.
Currently, intra-regional trade among South Asian countries is barely 5% compared to 25% in the ASEAN region. A World Bank blog said trade between South Asian countries currently totals just $23 billion, well below an estimated value of at least $67 billion.
During this visit, Modi and Hasina are expected to sign a slew of deals, including important ones related to power and river water sharing in addition to connectivity.
“Bangladesh is strategically important to us and when it comes to such important partners and neighbors it is important to go beyond just economic benefits,” said national co-host Ashwani Mahajan. by Swadeshi Jagran Manch. He added that there was an urgent need to shape the draft Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two countries.
Integrating economic activities, trade and investment will be key for both countries as they prepare for a post-Covid growth phase.
“We definitely have our concerns, but we shouldn’t overstate that. I think Bangladesh’s relationship with India is mutually beneficial. If there is good will on both sides, the resulting concerns can be resolved,” said Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, Center for Policy Dialogue at The Business Standard (Bangladesh).
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