Sri Lanka is promoting and following a policy of regional integration, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama.
Speaking at the first South Asia Economic Summit on Thursday in Colombo, Minister Bogollagama said Sri Lanka is already one of the most open countries in the region and would like to see more regional cooperation.
“We have the highest number of outbound flights into countries in the region and we have visa on arrival facilities for many of the SAARC countries,” said the Minister.“We want to go beyond this. We are perusing every platform available to us in the international fora to promote regional integration,” he said.
The Minister said many matters of regional interest, such as food security, can be addressed through greater regional integration. “The President (of Sri Lanka) believes that we need to look at matters like food security on a regional level,” said the Minister.
The South Asia Economic Summit (SAES) was convened a few weeks after the 15 SAARC Summit in Colombo, to discuss economic integration in the region. A SAARC Trade Fair also kicked off on Thursday.
The Summit saw academics, government officials, civil socity groups and businesses sector representatives from South Asian countries meeting at the BMICH, to discuss current and emerging economic trends in the region. Despite the existence of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), formal trade data indicates that the region is one of the least integrated trade blocs in the world, with trade within the SAARC countries amounting to only about 5% of total regional trade with the rest of the world. The region is also home to about 40% of the world’s poor, despite becoming one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
The South Asia Economic Summit was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) and the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) in collaboration with the Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS), of India, the South Asia Centre for Policy Studies (SACEPS) of Nepal, the South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) of Nepal.
Collaboration and technical assistance were also provided by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo.