US ambassadors express commitment to regional connectivity enhancementUS ambassadors from the Saarc region and the US deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs put spotlight on regional connectivity and US role in helping South Asia improve its connectivity during a two-day conference in Kolkata.
US ambassadors from the Saarc region and the US deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs put spotlight on regional connectivity and US role in helping South Asia improve its connectivity during a two-day conference in Kolkata.
The two-day Indo-Asia Connectivity Conference concluded in Kolkata on Thursday.
What makes the coming together of senior US officials noteworthy, especially from the perspective of Nepal and Bangladesh, is that while India remains central when it comes to US engagement in South Asia, the US is also open to helping smaller economies grow and remain interconnected.
The message from the US officials was: the United States can play a critical role in improving connectivity across the Asian region to alleviate energy shortage and create employment.
“The US can play a critical role, both as a convener, as a facilitator, as a broker, perhaps most importantly, as a partner,” said Manpreet Singh Anand, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs on Thursday at the conference.
The US government’s increased focus on regional connectivity can be gauged by the fact that it was second regional conference that the US has organised in 2016 on the topic.
And, there was strong US contingent in Kolkata with the presence of USAID chiefs from the region and key officials from US Trade Representative office, Millennium Challenge Corporation, US Trade and Development Agency and US Foreign Commercial Service, among others.
With South Asia being one of the fastest growing regions and the US-South Asia trade increasing rapidly, the US has vital interest in the region. With more than $130 billion in annual trade with South Asia, the United States has a vital interest in a region that is prosperous and interconnected, said US Ambassador to India Richard Verma.
Stating that connectivity is critical to South Asia’s future development, Verma said if barriers were removed and customs procedures streamlined, intra-regional trade in South Asia could increase from the current $28 billion to over $100 billion. “Unfortunately, South Asia today is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world; intra-regional trade as a percentage of total trade in the region has languished between four and five percent,” he said.
The US envoys underscored the need for better transport and energy connectivity, strong regulatory regime as well as vibrant civil society for the countries in the region to achieve higher economic growth during the US Ambassadors Panel on Regional Connectivity moderated by Deputy Assistant Secretary Anandhere.
US Ambassador to Nepal Alaina B Teplitz, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Bernicat and US Ambassador to India Verma were asked to highlight the challenges and opportunities of the countries they are serving and the US role in enhancing opportunities for connectivity.
“Despite the immense potential of energy not just for Nepal but for sharing with regional neighbours, barriers persist in infrastructure constraints, political will, investment climate and transmission capacity,” said Teplitz.
Stating that the US government has given strong attention to hydropower development in Nepal, Teplitz said, “Energy poverty is really more than inconvenience; it is something that limits growth not only on economic and social level, but across development spectrum.”
Ambassador Bernicat said while Bangladesh strives to reach lower-middle income status, it could reach this goal sooner, provided that the country is better connected through transportation and energy grids.
For Ambassador Verma, the challenges within India include tax and legal certainty, transparency, intellectual property, and having a strong civil society.