In his maiden Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested some far-reaching measures to integrate the region.
From proposing a “Saarc business traveller card” to creation of a “special purpose facility” for infrastructure projects, Modi seemed to say that India was ready to play a big brother's role.
He also spoke about a vision to create cross-border industrial corridors and common electricity grids, emphasising greater air, road and rail connectivity.
“Infrastructure is my greatest priority in India. And, I also want to set up a Special Purpose Facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in our region that enhances our connectivity and trade…India will now give a business visa for three to five years for Saarc. Let's make it even easier for our businesses through a Saarc business traveller card,” Modi said, at the Summit in Kathmandu on Wednesday.
He also spoke about creating a level-playing field to boost trade within the region. Urging the need to remove the “cynicism and scepticism” generally associated with Saarc, he said a lot had to be done to build a stronger grouping.
Highlighting the need to establish “direct routes of trade”, the PM said India had to take a lead in creating and enhancing regional integration. “I know that many of your goods, too, have to do a “parikrama” of India to reach their destinations. Just think of what we are doing to our consumers — and to our environment! We must shrink the distance between our producers and consumers and use the most direct routes of trade,” he said.
Asking investors in the region to attract investment from India, he said this would enhance business and generate jobs for youth. “I look to a future when your companies can easily raise funds in India for investments at home; and, when we have cross-border industrial corridors, so that we can take advantage of the natural synergies and connected lives in our border states,” he said.
To boost trade, he said, it was important to reduce tariffs. “A good neighbourhood is a universal aspiration.”
He also spoke about treating electricity as a commodity.
“India will fully support these initiatives in the region. We should also think with ambition to use solar energy and micro grids to quickly provide clean power to villages across the region.”
Hailing Modi’s remarks, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said his proposals — on a Saarc business traveller card, special purpose facility for financing regional infrastructure, and cross-border industrial corridors — were “innovative and very pertinent”.
India’s exports to South Asian countries were $17.5 billion in 2013-14, about 5.6 per cent of our total exports. Our imports from these countries reached $2.5 billion in 2013-14, about 0.5 per cent of India’s total imports, said CII.