Jaitley says SASEC initiative will help member-countries access trade gateways

Arun Jaitley launches SASEC Vision Document
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said the South Asia Sub-regonal Economic Cooperation (SASEC) initiative, supported by an Operational Plan and now guided by a vision, would help member-countries to optimally utilize their resources and facilitate access to trade gateways and linkages with global markets.
"Improved connectivity and infrastructure development could substantially spur economic growth in the region," he said at a meeting of Finance Ministers of the SASEC countries here.
"Enhanced cooperation among the member countries would also give an impetus to small and medium enterprises in the region. Collaboration in knowledge sharing would facilitate innovation and research," he said.
Mr. Jaitley said that, in the last 16 years, the SASEC initiative had made a significant progress in developing regional cooperation and integration. 
"I am happy to know that the SASEC member countries have come forward to identify opportunities and synergies, which would help us better harness our immense potential in all fields. 
"Today, we welcome Myanmar, the newest member of the SASEC. With Myanmar joining this initiative, SASEC will facilitate a credible link between South Asia and South East Asia," he said.
Mr. Jaitley said that, following the Leaders' Retreat hosted by India in Goa in October 2016, BIMSTEC was pursuing a vigorous Agenda for Action to enhance connectivity, trade and commerce and people-to-people contacts in the region and promote socio-economic development which are their shared objectives. 
"We are also part of a number of other regional initiatives such as Indian Ocean Rim- Association of Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), BCIM, SAARC, Mekong-Ganga Initiative that have significance in South Asia. Our neighbours are also part of one or more such regional groupings," he said.
He said the SASEC vision, complemented by the Operational Plan, would help the member countries overcome the problems and challenges associated with unemployment, macroeconomic and structural vulnerabilities, access and integration, and limited investment and growth.
Mr. Jaitley said India was following a policy of ‘Act East’ to improve connectivity and relations with countries of South East Asia and East Asia. 
"Our policy will definitely receive a fillip with Myanmar’s participation in SASEC. Improved access to gateway ports particularly in Bangladesh and Myanmar may help unleash the latent potential of agro and forest based industries in India’s North East region," he said.
The Finance Minister said India’s “Sagar mala” initiative along the coastal States also aimed to promote port-led direct and indirect development and provide infrastructure to and from ports quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. 
"The 'Bharat mala' programme of India aims at developing robust and credible road links in the border areas to provide last-mile connectivity to major border points and trade routes connecting our neighbours," he said.
Mr. Jaitley said power trade in the sub-region also presented a significant opportunity with gains and savings for the member countries, and may collectively help them move towards their energy security goals. "We have developed a power transmission link with Bangladesh through which we are supplying 500 MW of electricity to Bangladesh. We are also engaged with Bangladesh to develop transmission link to the eastern part of the country," he said.
He said power trade between India and Bhutan had a long history. "With Nepal, we are building new cross-border power transmission lines to help in the distribution of electricity from power projects being developed in Nepal. I am confident we will be able to fully harness the hydropower potentials of the region and act as a bridge connecting power surplus and power deficient regions," he said.
"We need to stand together in times of crisis. India has always played a pro-active role to support the neighbours. In the face of the recent earthquake in Nepal or tsunami in Sri Lanka or cyclone in Bangladesh in last decade, it has always a matter of great happiness for us to lend a helping hand to rebuild and rehabilitate affected people. Last year, during the visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister of Nepal to India, both countries signed a credit line agreement of USD 750 million for post-earthquake reconstruction.
"We have undertaken a number of initiatives bilaterally. India-Bangladesh standard operating procedure on coastal shipping, Bilateral Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), India-Nepal MoU for project management consultancy services for upgradation/ improvement of road infrastructure in Terai of Nepal, India-Sri Lanka agreements on developing Trincomalee as a petroleum hub, on building and improving railway network in the island country are some of the recent examples of bilateral cooperation.
"The SASEC Vision has set the stage for an increased cooperation among us going forward. I am sure the combined strength of the Group would lead to a greater synergy and help us transform the economic landscape of the region. I wish the initiative a great success," he added.


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