Regional Economic Integration: Role of SAARC and SCO

“Regional economic integration has become an unavoidable phenomenon in existing universal free trade scenario. Economic integration entails joint venture of public and private sector institutions.”

Regional economic integration has become an unavoidable phenomenon in existing universal free trade scenario. Economic integration entails joint venture of public and private sector institutions. Both public and private sectors are the main stakeholders of regional economic integration through investments and collaborations. In an economically integrated region, trade and the movement of several factors of production like labor and investment from one partner country to another partner country is permissible without government’s regulatory control.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are also in quest for economically integrated Asian region.  SAARC is an economic and political regional organization of countries in South Asia established in 1985. The objectives of SAARC are to quicken the procedure of economic and social development in its member states through augmented intra-regional cooperation.

The absence of cooperation among South Asian states is perhaps the main hindrance that deters the region’s ability to flourish. Regional cooperation is very imperative because the formation of regional alliances in contemporary concept of globalization is measured as an impetus for global integration. SAARC is surely the most vivacious platform for regional cooperation and connectivity. SAARC countries are cooperating in various spheres like trade, food security, women development, drug abuse, infrastructure development, cultural exchange, environmental protection and to combat terrorism.

Though, much more need to be done, as regional integration needs effective institutions reflecting functions of regional preparation and delivery of power among the member states along with their level of assurance towards regional integration. While, South Asian states are experiencing ethno-political encounters, unsettled bilateral issues, image problem about each other. At the same time, the market-driven forces of globalization are transforming the economies in the region. South Asian region is in need understanding that how the regional set ups across the world have accepted the strategy of regional economic integration to exploit their resources for shared advantage in a composed and impartial manner. Therefore, the mutual economic goals along with more intra-regional trade activities in SAARC countries would bring economic development in the region.

Subsequently, the results of this economic development would also been trickle down for sustainable human development. SAARC Chamber of commerce and industry has been proactively supporting sturdier commercial and economic relations, for a thriving and integrated South Asia. By accepting global methodology and concentrating on a varied range of activities like poverty mitigation, development of the health sector, trade and commerce in the region, the region can further become a crucial force for regional and economic integration. It is very obvious that private sector is the engine of the development of south Asian countries. Public private partnership is very important in this regard.

Therefore, the development and the growth of the SAARC member countries cannot be detached from the progress and evolution of the private sector in SAARC member countries. In contemporary world, regional economic integration is the only choice for addressing the longstanding, prolonged inter-state tensions in South Asia. This becomes more evident since we have a look of what all happened in Europe during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, where the militarism and search of zero-sum foreign policies ultimately managed to the absolute devastation of the entire continent in the 1st and 2nd world war.

However, after World War II, Europeans comprehended in absence of regional economic platforms integration and development is not possible. This is the reason why they progressively motivated toward long-term economic integration, which they comprehend to be a help for short and long-term issues as well as for security needs, which were highly entangled. These tough familiarities and Western Europe’s subsequent acceptance of a common economic market soon started stimulating other regions of the world to formulate such regional alliances as SAARC, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Union of South American Nations, the African Union and many others.

It is also a reality that not all regional alliances have attained their dream of eloquent economic integration as of Europe. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute meaningfully towards the economic volume of the region.  Provision of employment and income opportunities are the conclusive factors for poverty eradication. The formation of an adequate framework for intra-regional trade is essential, as central trade-related government and private sector organizations lack appropriate proficiencies and dimensions. The SAARC Trade Promotion Network (SAARC-TPN) consists of 27 public and private institutions from the eight countries of the SAARC region. Public sector members of the TPN are mainly the national trade ministries or the trade departments of economic ministries, along with trade and export promotion agencies. Members of the network included from the private sector are mainly the regional and national business membership organizations. These chambers of commerce and business associations are the chief trade organizations in their countries.

In April 1996, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established from a summit meeting between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These countries shared common borders, and it was essential to approve and consolidate the borders between the former Soviet states and China. Currently, SCO includes eight member states, India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan.

SCO members are mostly from or bordering Central Asia. Since its existence, membership and bureaucracy of SCO have extended. While the organization has mainly been publicized as one, in which its members can shape shared trust and foster multidimensional cooperation, the SCO can also be seen as an object that imitates shifting power dynamics in this sub region, particularly between China and Russia. China’s economic growth has been an essential factor in its quest of a bigger voice internationally, not only carving out a superior role for itself within current international institutions but also supporting fresher, regionally focused alliances, such as the SCO and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Equally, in the decades that trailed the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia’s economic development, in the meantime, has retreated and surged, apparently transferring the country to a more junior position within international hierarchy. China’s raise on the international stage and Russia’s apparent downgrading has likely been an uncertain block for more in-depth cooperation between the two.

In the past few years though, the downturn in relations between Washington and Moscow, as well as Washington and Beijing, specifically over trade, may have led the two Eurasian countries to strengthen their partnership. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s removal from or absence of interest in international leadership and multilateralism has unlocked the door for other forums like the SCO to progress further in Asia. Yet, as a forum that has shaped few palpable dealings of growth, will the modern enhancement of relations between Beijing and Moscow in order to ease better SCO coordination and deeds.

Beyond thoughts of counterterrorism coordination and common security apprehensions, sustainable economic development and investment are subjects of interest. Since 2015, leaders have hinted at the integration of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Putin has specified that the BRI fits the EAEU’s aims and that China should accommodate the EAEU, while Xi has advised SCO members to synergize BRI with other regional initiatives like that of the EAEU.

So far, situations in which a Russia led by Putin keenly relinquishes under the current circumstances.  Such a union of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative may benefits the whole region as a whole. The SCO has countless potential to help as a vehicle for structuring the economies of the countries of Central Asia and to get them into the global arena. The opportunity of using the agenda of a joint organization such as the SCO particularly in the oil and natural gas sector gives countries like Kazakhstan improved control than it would have gathered independently in the global oil market. Concerning the energy market there is also possibility for the SCO to cooperate with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The GCC countries have been able to stimulate a shared front and collaborate with each other to guarantee that all the countries participate in the wealth formation from their natural resources. UAE and other Gulf countries are good instances of oil and gas economies that have initiate a place in the international economy in trade, banking and commerce. In 2007, SCO’s meeting was constructive to give voice to matters connecting to growing and maintaining good neighborly relations along with generating a ‘unified energy market’. Along with the Gulf-Arab countries and Iran, Turkey with its ancient, linguistic and religious affinity with the populations of Central Asia inhabits a significant position in the region, particularly since their independence. Turkey has capitalized in infrastructure, education and health as well as established cultural and other links with Central Asia. Economic and trade cooperation between Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states has gained striking success since the establishment of this organization. If the SCO continues consolidate and strengthen the attainments and goals, it has great potential to move forward in a progressive manner.

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