South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program is an initiative of Asian Development Bank which was stated in 2001 and is headquartered at Manila, Philippines.
The participating members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. They are seven in number.
The SASEC program is a project-based partnership to promote regional prosperity by improving cross-border connectivity, boosting trade among member countries and strengthening regional economic cooperation.
Various projects have been implemented in field of energy, transport, trade facilitation, economic corridor development and information, communications and technology sectors with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
In the year 1996, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal formed the South Asian Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ) aimed at boosting cooperation in environment, energy and power, trade and investment, transport, and tourism. This group was formed as a subset of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and was recognized by it.
ADB serves as the SASEC Secretariat, working with member governments to provide capacity and knowledge building, provide technical support and development partners to the member nations.
Areas of Cooperation
Transport: To create and improve the regional connectivity and intra-regional connectivity through air, water and land linkages for bolstering trade and economic growth.
Trade Facilitation: To reduce trade barriers like tariffs, speeding up border customs clearances and reducing the cost of trade between the partners.
Energy: To Improve cross-border electricity transmission connectivity through power trade and capacity development. SASEC will also increase cooperation in energy efficiency and clean power development.
Economic Corridor Development (ECD): ECD will be used to promote synergies and linkages between economic corridors across SASEC countries to optimize development gains. It will also help to link transport infrastructure with urban and industrial development. It will help in optimizing opportunities to bring innovation into public-private partnerships.
The final objective of SASEC is to create a common market like the EU in their region.
Issues with SASEC
Dependence on ADB: SASEC is too much dependent on ADB for funds which may lead to the group being manipulated to do projects which only serve ADB’s needs.
Perception of India’s Dominance: This perception may lead to the failure of the group as a whole as the other individual members may lose their identity. This big brother image may also lead the small members to always see India as a threat to their objectives.
Human Trafficking: This region is notoriously famous for human trafficking, and with more porous borders may lead to a significant increase in such cases.
Drug and Arms Trafficking: This region is notoriously famous for Drug and Arms trafficking and porous borders may lead to a significant increase in such cases. The Golden Triangle falls in this region. This may also lead to terrorism related problems in the region.
There has been no emphasis on security collaboration in the SASEC group.
A separate funding mechanism must be developed by the members of SASEC so that they may fund their own projects and help in the betterment of the region.
India has to change the perception of being a dominant player in the group and make the other members realize that they are all equal partners.
There should be agreements for security measures in the SASEC area as this region is susceptible to human, drug and arms trafficking.
There could be more emphasis on cultural contacts between the people which will act as confidence building measures and help develop SASEC as a common market.
India and SASEC
Geo Strategic Benefits
To counter China’s Influence in the Region: Japan and US backed ADB has invested heavily in this area which will help India reduce Chinese influence in the region.
Group may be more Effective than SAARC: Time and again, SAARC has suffered as a group because of hostilities between India and Pakistan.
Gives India more Connectivity for North East: With ADB support, India is presently developing two priority road corridors. The first road corridor will connect India with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan through the “chicken neck” area of North Bengal. The second road corridor will establish India-Myanmar connectivity in the state of Manipur.
Reduction in Trade Barriers
Motor Vehicles Agreement: India has successfully negotiated Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement. This will help in faster and easier movement of goods through the region.
Implementation of Information Communication and Technology at Trade Checkpoints: This has helped in significantly reducing the time in custom clearances.
Integrated Check Posts: Have improved Land Customs Stations at key border points with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan to ease the movement of goods and people within the sub region.
East Coast Economic Corridor: This will help in increasing the trade of India’s natural resources like coal and iron ore, and act as node for extractive and downstream value-added industries.
Energy Trade: India has successfully negotiated many agreements for trade with SASEC nations like Nepal, Bhutan for energy trade.
Increase Tourism Significantly: Through more or less open borders between SASEC nations , tourism has increased significantly in members like India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Clean Energy: SASEC is a region with a huge potential to produce clean energy and hence will help in the conservation of nature and protection of environment.
Sagarmala Initiative: Sagarmala which is a major portled development initiative will get boost from SASEC as it will help in increasing the chances of trade in South East Asia.