The South Asia region comprising of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, accounts for 3 percent of the global geographics, nearly 24 percent of the world’s population, around 9 percent of the global economy and a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$ 2.9 trillion . On an average, the region has largely remained resilient to global economic shocks over the years and among some of the fastest growing regions in the world. The emerging economic growth has translated, off late, into declining poverty and impressive improvements in human development – with the region experiencing a favourable demographic transition in the background of having the largest concentration of youth.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established in 1985 as a regional grouping of South Asian countries. It emerged from the pressing need for intraregional engagement to promote the welfare of its people. The avowed aim was to strive towards common socio-economic goals drawing upon a shared history and culture. Cooperation in SAARC is based on respect for the five principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of the member states and mutual benefit.
The region has the potential to become of the major centre powers of the world, with prospects of emerging as a decisive economic and trade entity. The intra-regional trade in SAARC has increased from $16.64 billion in 2005-06 to $46.51 billion in 2015-16, a growth of nearly 18 percent over the decade. With the favourable socio-economic dynamics of the region, South Asia has the potential to revamp itself into an economic power-house.
FICCI’s South Asia desk has a multi-fold engagement strategy which spans across the diplomatic missions of all SAARC countries, government, institutional, allied bodies as well as MoU partners in the region, think tanks and industry. With notable achievements to its credit in streamlining the engagement approach and maintaining sustained engagements and outreach with its partners and stakeholders, the SAARC desk of FICCI has played an instrumental role in the formation of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry and is the recognised national federation from India representing the interests of Indian businesses in SAARC CCI. Moreover, FICCI is the officially designated nodal chamber in India by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India for India – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement. Besides, the South Asia desk of FICCI also holds the business secretariat of India – Sri Lanka CEO’s Forum.
Moreover, the South Asia desk of FICCI has also been actively engaged in the Heart of Asia - Istanbul process. India is an active participant in the Heart of Asia Process and is the lead country for the Trade, Commerce and Investment Opportunities – Confidence Building Measures (TCI-CBM). The objective is to create conducive conditions for Afghanistan to thrive on trade and not depend on aid, enhance employment opportunities and ensure better connectivity. FICCI is the nodal industry chamber leading private sector initiatives and actively supporting the vision of Government of India in this regard. The South Asia desk of FICCI has spearheaded a host of capacity building and thought leadership initiatives, Buyer Seller Meets, innovation fairs and product show in both the countries under the aegis of the project.
Government of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy driven initiatives beside the recent launch of the South Asia Satellite or GSAT-9 reinforces its engaged focus on strengthening economic diplomacy with its immediate and extended neighbourhood. FICCI’s consistent efforts are not only directed towards capitalizing on the emerging potential of the South Asia region for enhancing industry linkages, greater business engagement and South Asia Economic Union but also rendering services to the government and other relevant stakeholders for achieving the desired level of regional engagement and integration.