Attainment of SDGs: Experts for South Asia cooperation framework

21 Nov,2018


The countries in South Asia need to develop an effective regional cooperation framework to accelerate the process of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) achievement, experts said at an international event in the capital on Tuesday.

At the same time, the government agencies concerned need to move out of their silos and work collaboratively to achieve the UN-mandated global goals, they also said.

Such views came at a research-policy meeting themed - 'Interpreting SDGs for South Asia: In Search of a Regional Framework'.

The country's leading think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organised the two-day event in collaboration with United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), a German entity.

"The goals and targets of SDGs are interrelated and cannot be implemented in isolation," said CPD Distinguished Fellow Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya while delivering the keynote paper of the event.

"Earlier, South Asia did little to develop a regional cooperation plan to accelerate the implementation process of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The question is whether the same thing will happen in case of SDGs."

Dr. Bhattacharya noted that during the 18th SAARC Summit in 2014, the South Asian leaders gave directives to initiate a process to contextualise SDGs.

"An expert group was also formed to initiate an inter-governmental process to appropriately contextualise SDGs at the regional level."

However, since the indefinite postponement of SAARC Summit in 2016, any inter-governmental move in the region concerning SDGs is stalled, and the expert group is yet to meet due to lack of quorum, he noted.

Speakers at the event also emphasised greater collaboration among the government entities concerned to achieve the 17 global goals of SDGs.

"Every goal, every target and every outcome of SDGs is dependent on the ability of the government agencies to work collaboratively and to move out of their respective silos," said Prime Minister's International Affairs Adviser Dr. Gowher Rizvi.

"This is something extremely alien to the government. We are very comfortable to work in our own silos, and there are no horizontal connections," he opined.

Experts at the event also pointed out that compared to other sub-regions of the world, South and South-West Asia has been rather slow in leveraging regional economic integration.

They also noted that excluding India, South Asia's contribution to both world gross domestic product (GDP) and global exports have remained marginal and stagnant.

The total share of South Asia in global exports stood at 4.07 percent in 2017. But the share falls to merely 0.79 percent when India is excluded, according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) figures.

"Compared to global average, South Asia is lagging behind in terms of major economic indicators, especially those related to international trade and structural transformation," Dr. Bhattacharya also noted.

"Share of agriculture in the region's GDP and employment is declining, although the sector still generates about half of the employment."

"Meanwhile, the share of manufacturing sector, both in terms of GDP and employment, is stagnant," he added.

"The key to achieving SDGs for South Asia will be to focus on seven or eight key priorities," said Dr. Nagesh Kumar, Head of UNESCAP South and South-West Asia office.

"But to do that, we need to pay attention to the capacity gaps and modes of implementation," he concluded.

High-level representatives from various South Asian countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan also spoke in the programme.

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