The seven-member Sasec includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar
In the absence of any substantive deal-making in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) grouping due to the rivalry between India and Pakistan, six of the eight Saarc members, along with Myanmar, on Monday launched Sasec (South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation) vision, charting a new strategic road map to guide sub-regional development through 2025 by enhancing market connectivity beyond physical connectivity.
The seven-member Sasec includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar and will coordinate planning of projects and activities to increase economic growth by building cross-border connectivity, and facilitating faster and more efficient trade.
Over the past 15 years, Sasec member countries have invested $9 billion in 46 sub-regional projects that have helped propel the sub-region’s growth and development, with Asian Development Bank (ADB) financing $5.6 billion of this total.
In 2016 alone, ADB approved financing for nine Sasec investment projects worth $2.4 billion, including $1.2 billion worth of transport and economic corridor projects in India.
Another 19 projects for Sasec countries are indicatively planned for 2017-19 with potential ADB funding of $3.6 billion.
The strategic vision document titled “SASEC: Powering Asia in the 21st Century” will supplement the Sasec Operational Plan 2016-2025 released in May 2016 by relying on regional cooperation that focuses on generating synergies between three levers—natural resources, industrial potential, and connectivity.
These synergies are expected to generate a combined annual output of approximately $70 billion, and an additional cumulative employment of nearly 20 million by 2025, of which about 9 million would be direct employment in the sub-region. One of the flagship initiatives that has been identified is a pipeline corridor between Bangladesh and India that may enable two-way petroleum and product trade.
India and Nepal are also exploring an electronic cargo tracking system.
“Export of refined petroleum products to Bangladesh is recognised to benefit India as it expands the market for the refineries located in the northeast region of India. In addition, utilizing ports in Bangladesh instead of the current proposed port at Paradip for crude imports may result in annual savings for India,” the vision document said.
Addressing finance ministers and representatives of Sasec countries, Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley said power trade in the sub-region also presents a significant opportunity with gains and savings for member countries, and may collectively help the member countries move towards their energy security goals.
“We have developed a power transmission link with Bangladesh through which we are supplying 500 megawatts of electricity to Bangladesh. We are also engaged with Bangladesh to develop a transmission link to the eastern part of the country,” he added.