‘Trade liberalisation can yield consumer welfare’

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The findings of the research titled, ‘Cost of Economic Non-Cooperation to Consumers in South Asia (COENCOSA)’ were shared on Monday by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, The Asia Foundation Director of Programmes Shahid Fiaz and SDPI Economic Growth Unit Research Head Dr Vaqar Ahmed. The study is jointly conducted by CUTS International in partnership with a group of like-minded organisations including the SDPI with the support of The Asia Foundation. The study assesses the potential benefits to consumers of opening trade between South Asian countries, mainly Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The study reveals that, though Pakistan receives only 10.5 percent of total gains, the lowest in region, it stands to save 59.04 percent on its current import expenditure on selected products.
Among other factors, Pakistan’s least connectedness with other countries in the region and the worsening energy situation hinder its progress on this front.
The speakers lamented South Asia, despite being home to most of the world’s poor and conflict-ridden, is the least economically integrated region in the world which results in higher costs to consumers on account of costlier imports from outside the region.
They shared the findings of the study and urged Pakistan and all South Asian countries to enhance regional economic cooperation to facilitate the poor consumers of the region. Dr Suleri was of view that there exists a common ambiguity among masses on a number of issues including trade relations among South Asian countries. He urged the South Asian governments, including Pakistan, to enhance regional cooperation while citing the State Bank of Pakistan’s report which had also recommended that trade relations among South Asian countries would be useful for Pakistan. Terming the government’s decision to trade in local currency as a ‘positive development’, he said the government’s efforts for regional trade and economic cooperation has to be supported in the larger interest of consumers.
“We need to improve our production and exports but not at the cost of our local consumers,” he said. Dr Vaqar said South Asia continues to be one of the poorest region in the world. A big role in this poverty is played by non-connectedness of the region in terms of trade, transport and logistics. He said the study is an effort to look at consumer welfare gains from trade liberalisation.
He said: “We believe trade agreements signed by the Pakistani government should also have a consumer perspective. We will continue our advocacy and outreach efforts to safeguard the interests of Pakistan consumer.”
He hoped the study will act as a reminder to national governments in South Asia to meet their unfulfilled commitments under the SAFTA, adding that political considerations should not adversely impact consumers’ welfare.
Shahid Fiaz said South Asia is the world’s poorest region while the region’s countries are spending largest portions of their incomes on arms and defence.
He said regional cooperation will create a win-win situation for all.
He said such researches help to enhance further studies, regional dialogue and prospects for peace and stability in the situations like the region has today.
The study also discloses that trade policies and agreements have not highlighted consumers’ gains from trade liberalisation and lack of awareness about consumer welfare gains lowers stakeholders’ expectations from intra-regional trade. The study stresses to separate political issues plaguing the region for better economic cooperation and suggests increased media and policy spaces on consumer welfare gains will change stakeholders’ perceptions on the virtues of enhanced and improved intra-regional trade.

1 COMMENT

  1. 59% saving in import cost for Pakistan is substantial. For the sake of poor consumers in the Region, we should push hard to create a Common Market for SAARC. This is the fastest means of ending abject Poverty in the Region.

    We are grateful to the present Government for a taking a bold decision to grant MFN status to India to pave way for SAFTA implimentation.

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