SAARC as an Economic but also Social Union?

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It has been interesting reading articles about regional integration along this week. Both the Kathmandu Post and Republica did a great job to cover the event. TV stations equally dedicated much space for the SAARC summit. This kind of event generates euphoria and we are all now taken by a high level of enthusiasm about whatever sounds south Asian.

Reading and learning I discovered that SAARC has started so many valid and interesting initiatives but multiple factors contributed to a dismal level of implementation. Everybody knows it and everybody wrote about it.

Only one agreement was signed out of the planned three. Not that bad after all. Now yes the focus should be at the implementation level but I fear that once the euphoria and pressure will be off, business will return as usual.

How can we keep the momentum? Is the ball just with the political will that will be shown by the Heads of State and Government? Will everything depend on them? Is there any space for civil society to keep the pressure on? Is the regional civil society really interested to enhance its effort to create a real regional space called South Asia? Is the private sector ready to play its part?

While Kathmandu was vibrating with events organized by the People’s SAARC, I did not see much involvement of the private sector. Could we have envisioned a Corporate’s SAARC?

Prime Minister Koirala made a bold statement by referring to the need of a “quantum jump…towards a South Asian Economic Union”. Let’s repeat SOUTH ASIAN ECONOMIC UNION.

The first objective describes a common sense of identity “South Asian” while the second one is about the nature, “economic” around which a renovated and bold effort should be made to create the most powerful form of cooperation among sovereign countries, a union.

The private sector should play a very important role in this project. It should lobby to really generate the conditions for a regional economic union. Economically it makes absolute sense to talk about an economic union.

We can start vigorously with the revision and implementation of the free trade agreement already signed in Islamabad. All the SAARC leaders agree on principle that more economic cooperation is a win win, no one loses.

Let experts deal with the details and let’s make sure that the political leaders can facilitate the negotiations. Nothing is impossible if there is will.

There is no an economic union that is not, at the same time, also a social union. Here again the role of a People’s SAARC. Can we try to make it stronger? Can we make it more institutionalized?

Can we make it as a more inclusive regional civil society run umbrella body that is enabling a push forward a much more ambitious “horizon”, a new frontier of social and economic wellbeing?

The South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, SAAPE, has been doing a great job together with the NGO Federation as national counterpart to host the People’s SAARC. An interconnected web of civil society organizations also played a very crucial role in coordinating among themselves and taking the lead in organizing sector wide events. Important discussions were also held on disability rights.

Can they keep the momentum? Can all these organizations provide more and stronger support? Can they be united, not only in Nepal, but in each respective SAARC country to keep up the hard work so far achieved?

Can the People’s SAARC Declaration 2014 be translated into a results based plan of action? Certainly it is not an easy job but with  adequate resources, passion for the cause and determination to push ahead such an important agenda, concrete steps can be made to create a much stronger regional movement to enhance a citizen's focused SAARC

Will the SAARC Secretariat be able to pick up the opportunity and strongly partner with the People’s SAARC and the Corporate SAARC? Both, though diverse, are equally important. The former is undoubtedly already a reality though its outreach and strength can be really multiplied. A real network of networks must be created in each member nation of SAARC. Regional think tanks can also play a very important role. We need to overcome differences of positions, ideological colors and egos. A strong, very ambitious project can do that.

The latter, the Corporate SAARC, is something that needs to be created by scratch. Business people are moved by economic interests. Here the corporate guys from all over the region can get the biggest opportunity ever had: a common free market, maybe even a common currency, who knows what more could come.

Moved by different and often divergent interests, both civil society and private sector can join hands whenever necessary for an ultimate goal and the vision offered by Prime Minister Koirala is so powerful that can win over all differences,  bridging the gaps between social and corporate.

Imagine an economic and social union, two sides of the same coin: a region where opportunities for trade and investments will abound, where a new generation of South Asians will have commonly recognized rights but most importantly where a new generation of citizens in the region will be able and capable to thrive and prosper as well.



Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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