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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2731

UN Hails Economic Integration of Global South

By Thalif Deen -Inter Press Service

United Nations, 27 December, (IPS): The ongoing regional political squabbles in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America -- over issues such as territorial borders, human rights and natural resources -- are being increasingly overshadowed by intra-regional economic integration and the creation of new common markets.

India and Pakistan -- two longtime military rivals -- have helped strengthen economic and cultural ties within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and newcomer Afghanistan.

As a result, SAARC has a Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and a Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) facilitating economic relations among the eight member states.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is divided over human rights violations within its own family, specifically Burma (Myanmar), is heading towards a common market, along with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

"When the West views Asia, their eyes are drawn to the two rising giant economies of China and India, and to Japan, still the world's second largest economy," says Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, current ASEAN chair.

However, Western eyes should also turn to Southeast Asia that has a market of 550 million people and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of one trillion dollars.

"By 2015, the 10 economies of ASEAN will become a single market and production base, with the free flow of goods, services, investment and skilled labour, and freer flow of capital," said Koh, a former permanent representative of Singapore to the U.N. and currently ambassador-at-large.

He pointed out that ASEAN will also be linked, through free trade agreements (FTAs) and comprehensive economic partnership agreements, to the economies of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, and a trade and investment framework agreement with the United States.

As the world body commemorated its fourth 'U.N. Day for South-South Cooperation' last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon extolled the virtues of regional and inter-regional economic cooperation, which he said, "have increased substantially in recent years".

The new surge in South-South cooperation -- the strengthening of political, social and economic cooperation among the world's developing nations -- is the wave of the future, he added.

In a 20-page biennial report to the General Assembly, on "The State of South-South Cooperation", he said there is the emergence of new growth poles within the South as more countries become increasingly specialised in their manufacturing, trading and investment activities.

This has "dramatically reshaped the global economic landscape, creating new dynamics in trade, investment and development assistance flows both from and within economies in the South."

He also points to the robust economic growth of a number of countries in the South, such as Brazil, China, India and the Russian Federation, as well as that of a number of other developing countries, including Chile, Egypt, Ghana, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey, which has "had a significant impact on the development prospects of other countries in the South."

Ban also says that an increasing number of developing countries have become regional centres of economic dynamism, acting not only as significant beneficiaries but also as benefactors of South-South exchanges.

The study singles out prolific growth and strengthening of economic regional groups throughout the developing world: the Greater Arab Free Trade Area; the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab Maghreb Union in the Middle East and North Africa; and the Action Plan of Economic Development and Cooperation signed by eight Pacific Island countries and China last year.

In Eastern Europe, regional integration has been strengthened through the Guam (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova Group) Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development.

At the same time, countries in central and south-eastern Europe have formed the Central European Free Trade Agreement whose membership includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.

In Latin America, the South American Community of Nations, the Caribbean Community and the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) have established a variety of South-South partnerships to address issues relating to telecommunications, the environment and energy, while committing to significant tariff reductions and economic integration of the region, according to the U.N. report.

In the African region, says the study, organizations such as the African Union and sub-regional organizations such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Common Monetary Area, the East African Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of West African States, the Southern African Customs Union and the Southern African Development Community have implemented several development programmes in a number of areas, including governance, infrastructure, food security, science, and information and communications technologies.

At the November 2006 Asia-Africa Forum, China promised to double aid to Africa by 2009, to approximately one billion dollars; establish a 5.0 billion dollar China-Africa Development Fund; and provide 3.0 billion dollars in preferential loans and 2.0 billion dollars in preferential buyer's credits to African countries.

China also agreed to cancel all debt stemming from Chinese interest-free government loans that matured by the end of 2005 for the 31 heavily indebted and least developed countries in Africa.

Addressing a meeting on behalf of the 130-member Group of 77 developing countries, Farukh Amil of Pakistan told delegates that South-South cooperation is a growing and dynamic phenomenon.

"From promoting technical cooperation among developing countries, a few decades ago, the idea of South-South cooperation has come a long way," he said.

"It is an important process that is vital to confront the challenges faced by developing nations, and is also making an increasingly important contribution to their development," he noted. Most importantly, he said, it is a manifestation of solidarity, and of the collective self-reliance of the developing countries.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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