SAARC, the regional cooperation, was formed almost four decades before with manifold diverse aspirations and objectives through unanimous commitment of all regional state leaders to retain shared interest of countries in South Asia on common issues; regional cultural, political economic sanctity and development. The decision of forming this bloc was all the way welcoming and opportune though the journey of this shared goal achievement was not thoroughly smooth and achievable.
The SAARC agenda
The core agenda of SAARC envisages the collective regional peace keeping, control of cross-border terrorism, preferential trading system, inclusive soico-economic improvement and cross-border trade development. Despite having a clear manifesto and charter in SAARC, historically we witnessed the members seldom reached consensus on fewer common agenda and implemented them influenced by blended ideologies of member countries.
Apart from SAARC, World has seen many regional and sub regional cooperation and economic blocs like NAFTAS, GAFTA, EU, D8 and ASEAN across different continents which were found almost functional as expected. All members of the cooperation work hardest and act positive to enable their organization play roles for their multilateral interests keeping their difference and some inherited discord aside which is a rare precedent in SAARC.
Since SAARC comprises both developing and least developed countries, the decisions taken are expected to benefit relatively weak and least developed economies in this bloc like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Taking into account of regional economic integration and enrichment, regional multilateral trade, business expansion became pressing and urgent which led to historic SAFTA protocol almost a decade before aiming to make effective in 2010. The inevitable deal of preferential trade arrangement later turned as free trade agreement unanimously to hold all countries united. The milestone decision of SAFTA has always been expected to be game changer of our trade and business trajectory opening a new regime in the economic history of Bangladesh. Ironically, SAFTA plunged into non-conformity and deadlocked to large extent as a result of bottleneck of disagreement on products protection listing.
Sudden postponement of SAARC and its impacts
In the wake of recent militant Kashmir crisis and diplomatic mistrust of Pakistan and Bangladesh and other spurring regional dissonance leads to stagnation of crucial 19th summit of SAARC. This desperation for postponing summit is likely to fuel more multi-dimensional miseries including trade contact and supply chain loss and unpleasant implications for innocent members.
Bangladesh has got the longstanding foreign policy friendship to all, Malice to none, when the regional foreign policy matters come up, we should not violate our basis and ideals of foreign policy. Apart from SAARC, Bangladesh has not got any other strong tie in most geostrategic alliance than BIMSTEC and D8. The irony is that BIMSTEC remains partly functional as it is not economically very proactive in terms of shared economic interests.
Lacklustre endeavour from Bangladesh to rebuild the strong image regionally for a small excuse is a pressing concern. It makes evident that our severe carelessness above all low farsightedness in geo-economic and political context is leading us to isolation. We are now living in a shared global world with the philosophy of togetherness and unification hold all countries in a row but it is also alarming unsolicited fallout from potential regional economic bloc.
We may not assume but the potential trade and business, economic growth loss resulting from our insensible and inopportune political decisions leaves no bound and irreparable miseries. SAARC, being one of the largest demographics and dense regional market of more than 1.20 Billion population with 5% global trade share, the regional trade is not more that $27 billion backed by a slow growth pace and feeble trade diplomacy. Our extant disintegrated economic, diplomatic and political behaviour and impassionate neighborhood practice will grossly foil our commitment. Economic forecast outlines the potential regional trade loss could be around $3 Billion and series of new nontariff barriers may be sanctioned if this military instability continues.
Bangladesh had meanwhile trade imbalance with almost 4 countries in South Asia engulfed with multidimensional TBT, para-tariff, non-tariff trade barriers, anti dumping issues and this imbalance will grow larger and be detrimental if military and diplomatic war continues and, past efforts made for rationalizing healthy and win-win trade balance will go in vain.
Unsolved bilateral issues and SAARC’s inability
SAARC has got a limitation that it doesn’t deal any bilateral issue, dispute arising which also keeps SAARC to some extent inert in most instances. For instance, the tense between India and Pakistan can’t be resolved under the TOR of SAARC. Since this ongoing tension stemmed from Kashmir border militancy is a bilateral issue it is likely to reap harmful cascading multiplier trade impacts on almost all countries, so charter needs mending in the light of situations considered.
Since SAARC is apparently dysfunctional upon summit frozen, members raise deep concern whether they will remain or exit SAARC. People opined Bangladesh should reintegrate another regional cooperation like BIMSTEC. In the wake of this state, SASEC, another regional economic cooperation of almost all SAARC members excluding Pakistan backed by ADB, is gradually shaping up more focused than SAARC.
Economic interest being neglected
We should not feel complacent that regardless of BIMSTEC and SAARC nothing will be economically useful unless we keep aside our difference and prioritize the economic affairs with positive attitude. In addition, the BIMSTEC is a different diplomatic game, platform and family members but not guaranteed remarkable return for Bangladesh as efforts were irregular for substantial return out of it.
It is evident that our four-decade-long cooperation is shaky and fragile and learning of this long experience that proposed sub-regional connectivity mode of BBIN MVA within the same region among fewer members is difficult to be translated let alone far reaching multimodal BCIM.
Bangladesh’s foreign trade policy
Bangladesh, as an emerging LDC, needs to be very thoughtful, visionary and compassionate for the sake of our transitional economic prosperity keeping a distance away on all regional differences and disagreements above all prioritizing visions of economic graduation by 2021 and SDGs and developed economy by 2041 encompassing wide ranging, zero poverty, socio-economic, environmental, technological and industrial elevation and growth which may pave the way to cconomic self-sufficiency will only be the game changer and make our country economically self-sufficient and well protected.
To grow united and scale up the trade network, the integrated regional road and rail connectivity has got no other alternative at all and SAARC can exert effort roles to implement this connectivity but our non-cooperation will thwart cherished economic aspirations. We must not get aggrieved and align our domestic issues with cross- border diplomatic tie rather keep this relation above all for regional political economic prosperity harmonizing shared and sustainable global economic vision.
Amidst this background, all political parties, strategists and economists across this region are required to be sensibly united in reshaping the mindset and roll out utmost priority of economic visions to achieve and get the regional cooperation alive.
Bangladesh, as an emerging LDC, need to be very thoughtful, visionary for the sake of our transitional economic prosperity putting a blind eye on all regional differences and highly prioritizing visions of economic graduation by 2021 and SDGs and developed economy by 2041 encompassing inclusive poverty elimination, sustainable human living, socio-economic, environmental, technological and industrial growth, fair governance practice making us economically independence and more exclusive. With this belief, we must exert fullest cooperation and integrated effort to optimize our domestic economic targets and striving Bangladesh into new height locally and solidify our regional engagement leading to new regime.