Economic Analyst and Author Pranjal Sharma
The 12th South Asia Economic Summit (SAES XII), organised by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) on 26 and 27 September in Colombo, brought to light several key opportunities and challenges facing the South Asian region in the new digital era.
Achieving growth, stability and equity in the 4IR, tackling the challenges in the world of work, promoting innovation and regulating emerging technologies were some of the main issues discussed during SAES XII, under the overarching theme of ‘Shaping South Asia’s Future in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)’.
Speaking at the summit, former Vice Chair of the National Planning Commission of Nepal, Swarnim Waglé, highlighted that one of the main advantages of the 4IR was that it would increase connectivity, which would change production in South Asia by allowing the region to exploit global production chains. It would also increase employment opportunities, creating new paradigms, jobs and markets, he added.
However, while the 4IR may allow developing countries in South Asia to leapfrog development stages and achieve rapid growth, it could also widen inequality in the region.
Presenting an example of this issue, IPS Research Director Nisha Arunatilake noted that even though the Sri Lankan Government had started a smart school concept in the country, it was only implemented in 65 of the 10,000 schools in Sri Lanka due to resource constraints.
Therefore, governments needed to be creative when exploiting the opportunities presented in this digital era, she said.
Another challenge is tackling issues related to labour markets in South Asia. As pointed out by the speakers, the trends in 4IR are shifting the nature and organisation of labour markets in many ways.
MAS Holdings Sri Lanka Strategic Transformation Lead Tehani Renganathan pointed out that the 4IR would undoubtedly impact the labour force with new categories of talent and capabilities emerging while compromising and enhancing existing labour.
In this regard, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh Executive Director Fahmida Khatun highlighted that the development of skills catering to new demands of the 4IR was vital. “Here, fiscal policy plays a key role. We need more public expenditure to improve the quality of education. Active resource mobilisation and taxation is also crucial,” she emphasised.
Meanwhile, speaking on the role of governments in the 4IR, Econ-omic Analyst and Author Pranjal Sharma warned that over-regulation could hinder innovation and hold countries back in the new digital era.
“If governments want to promote innovation, they need to get out of the way. The only thing governments should watch out for is monopolistic behaviour. If someone is getting too big, break them up. As they shatter, something new will come up and there is innovation,” he stressed.