Physical connectivity and energy security cooperation among India and six other countries of South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme of Asian Development Bank is set to scale up when their Finance Ministers hold their first meeting in New Delhi on April 3.
Setting a positive tone for the meeting, the ADB cleared nine projects of SASEC countries, which comprises India, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and new entrant Myanmar, totalling $2.4 billion, including three in India. The meeting is expected to come out with a joint statement outlining the vision of SASEC member-countries to accelerate and sustain the growth momentum by using their natural resources, industry, and infrastructure through sub-regional cooperation.
The projects approved by ADB for SASEC are: two economic corridor initiatives and a bridge project in India worth an aggregate of $1.2 billion, two rail projects in Bangladesh, trade facilitation and airport projects in Bhutan worth $27 million and key SASEC road and energy projects in Nepal worth $302 million. All these projects are aligned with the SASEC Operational Plan’s thrusts of developing road and rail links aligned closely with trade routes toward the east, streamlining trade procedures and improving energy infrastructure. The nine projects represent a significant increase compared to the previous 15 years when the annual average value of projects approved was only about $500 million,” a senior ADB official said.
The SASEC Operational Plan, endorsed in June 2016 by the SASEC member-countries, is the grouping’s first comprehensive long-term plan to promote greater economic cooperation in areas of transport, trade facilitation, energy, and economic corridor development. Bringing regional cooperation to a higher level, the Plan envisages extension of physical linkages not only within SASEC but also with East and Southeast Asia by the next decade. The Plan has identified over 200 potential transport, trade facilitation and energy projects which will require over $120 billion in investments for the next five years, out of which 74 projects have been identified in India with an estimated project cost of over $60 billion. A majority of these projects are located in the Northeast or Eastern part of the country with the areas sharing borders with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
Raj Kumar, joint secretary in India’s Department of Economic Affairs, said that India fully supports the SASEC OP “as it will improve our economic linkages with East and Southeast Asia in accordance with India’s Act East policy”, thereby raising the competitiveness of the sub-region’s enterprises. And that aim got a boost when Myanmar was admitted in the SASEC as its seventh full member, elevated from being just an observer earlier, as the grouping expanded eastwards.
Established in 2001, the SASEC programme is a project-based partnership to promote cross-border connectivity, boosting trade among member-countries and strengthening regional economic cooperation. The programme has so far has supported 46 projects worth $9.17 billion in transport, trade facilitation, energy and information and communications technology (ICT) over the last 15 years.
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