Home / Opinion and Issues/ US Ambassador on unlocking South Asia’s economic potential

US Ambassador on unlocking South Asia’s economic potential

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 11 August 2016 00:00


US Ambassador Atul Keshap speaks to Government, private sector, and academics from South and Southeast Asia at the USAID-sponsored ‘National Trade Portal and Single Window Best Practices Forum’ to encourage greater prosperity through regional integration



Following are remarks by US Ambassador Atul Keshap at the National Trade Portal and Single Window Best Practices Forum on 9 August

Let me welcome all of the senior Government officials, private sector representatives, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Government and the people of the United States, I want to welcome all of you to the National Trade Portal and Single Window Best Practices Forum. 

I particularly want to thank Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake for joining us, recognising his efforts and that of his Ministry in launching the Single Window platform in Sri Lanka in January. I am also delighted that Rajendran, the Additional Director of Customs, will be sharing Sri Lanka’s accomplishments thus far in the break-out session tomorrow.

I am very honoured and grateful to have representatives here from throughout South Asia and from our partners in the ASEAN region. The Department of State and USAID partnered to convene this Forum, and your attendance from across the Indo-Pacific region is a testament to the importance that you place on increasing regional trade and tackling the barriers that prevent your countries from accessing each other’s markets. 

I am pleased to see distinguished private sector and think tank representatives here from across South Asia. It is vital that Government policy makers hear and can respond to the needs of the private sector as they develop policy and systems that are vital to doing business both domestically and globally. 

I’ve heard you have had a robust discussion this morning with experts and practitioners who have first-hand experience on what it takes to launch and integrate trade portals and single window systems. This Forum is intended to provide actionable knowledge on developing trade portals and single windows - meaning that you will have the chance to get into the weeds, into the nitty-gritty of details and ask questions on implementation.

These are complicated endeavours, particularly on a micro level. But as you dig down, please keep in mind the broader goals of what these tools can do and what they can accomplish – increased trade, increased growth, increased incomes through regional trade integration. 




Trade integration 

Recognising that trade integration is a pathway to sustainable and inclusive economic growth, I have long supported connectivity first in my role as the US Senior Official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and then as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia. Today, I am pleased to see the growth of US Government efforts to increase regional trade and investment between the US and Sri Lanka, a country that will benefit directly from increasing economic links to its increasingly prosperous South Asian neighbours. 

Friends, across the South Asian region, we have seen impressive poverty reduction and impressive growth region wide averaging 7%. This region is home to almost 1.7 billion people and the economies of South Asia collectively generate $2.6 trillion in annual GDP. While that number sounds impressive, we know that it should and that it can be much, much higher. 

We also know there is extraordinary potential that remains untapped in South Asia. Among all of the regional economic groupings of the entire planet, South Asia’s regional and intra-regional trade remains too low – only about 5% of total trade is intra-regional – and intra-regional investment is less than 1% of overall FDI in South Asia. While South Asia’s trade with Southeast Asia has increased dramatically over the last decade, we believe there is also much more potential for trade between these two great and ancient regions.



Economic potential

The United States believes that South Asia’s economic potential can be unlocked through enhanced regional economic connectivity. To achieve this goal, we are implementing our vision of the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, or IPEC, an initiative that is building closer economic ties across the Bay of Bengal, Asia-Pacific, and the Indian Ocean regions.

As we all know from the history books, trade has thrived for centuries between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and between all of the communities of the greater and broader Indo-Pacific. We’re working with governments in the region to create a regional energy market, improved trade and transport infrastructure, streamline customs and border procedures, and enhance people-to-people links. 

We are fully committed as a Government to a more stable, prosperous, democratic, and integrated South Asia because that in turn boosts the security and prosperity of the United States as well. That is the main thrust, ladies and gentlemen, of President Obama’s Asia rebalance.


Transparency and predictability

I often speak with businesses here in Sri Lanka to understand their perspectives. Time and again, I hear their concern about a lack of up-to-date and reliable trade information, excessive and confusing paper work, and a lack of electronic systems which are essential in reducing the cost of trade and increasing transparency. With fewer resources, small and medium enterprises are particularly affected by these challenges, which you know can be costly and complex. 

That is why, in Sri Lanka and in countries throughout South and South East Asia, the United States Government is working to support small- and medium-sized companies to bring about economic growth and financial stability by creating new employment opportunities; promoting investment and developing skills; and also by connecting small and medium enterprises to regional and global markets, technological innovations, and knowledge. After all, small- and medium-sized enterprises trying to break into the market and succeeding in breaking into the market provide new ideas, vitality, and helpful competition that can benefit the entire economic eco-system. 

Friends, I believe that countries in this region can also give themselves a competitive edge by establishing clear and consistent policies in all areas of the economy. Policy clarity and policy consistency helps to level the playing field, it fosters transparency, and it provides predictability. All of these signal to the investor community that you are “open for business” and will attract those foreign and domestic investors looking for the best places to invest their money and share their knowledge.



Again friends, I want to emphasise connectivity. Connectivity leads to better integrated economies, improved socioeconomic outcomes, and remarkable innovations through sharing of ideas. Connectivity is what this Forum ultimately addresses: connectivity between agencies within your governments; connectivity between your respective systems; connectivity between importers and exporters; connectivity between traders and government authorities; connectivity between SMEs and global markets; and right here, in this room, connectivity between all of you as experts who care about these issues.

Friends, while you are at this Forum, you will be sharing information on best practices in building national trade portals and single windows, but you will also have the opportunity to build relationships. You will have the opportunity to learn how your counterparts in other economies of the Indo-Pacific region are advancing their trade portals and single windows, and also dealing with the very real challenges to implementation. 

I want to close my remarks by telling you again, how very happy we are to see you all of you in this room gathered together from across the Indo-Pacific, from South Asia and Southeast Asia. I wish you best of luck with your deliberations and with your exchange of insight and expertise. I thank you all again on behalf of the US Department of State, USAID, and the United States Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka for coming here to Colombo. Thank you and I wish you good continuation.

Share This Article


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Hype and haunt hovering over Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Thursday, 24 May 2018

There is a connection between the hype that is being built these days around Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Defence Secretary and once-powerful brother of the once-powerful President, and the haunt that shadows him wherever he goes. The hype is loud and

Northern nonsense, SLPP slip-up

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Tamil politicians and civil society movements are about to blow it—yet again. A week after the TNA’s Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, presiding over a militant mobilisation at Mullivaikkal, greatly exceeded the

Overlooking systemic crises: Subjecting to neoliberalism and potential hegemon – Part 3

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Renegotiating a country’s position within the world-economy is only possible when the system and/or leaders are in trouble

Annuity-based PPP can expedite infrastructure developments

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Sri Lanka has primarily relied on public finance for the development of public goods and infrastructure. While running

Columnists More