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Regional trade to be high on agenda for Obama’s India trip

Regional trade is likely to be “near the top” of the agenda during President Barack Obama’s India trip as expanding trade ties within the region can be a “game-changer”, a top US diplomat has said.

“Regional trade is likely to be near the top of the agenda,” Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal told a Washington audience.

With new governments taking the helm in India and Afghanistan, they are redefining how the region will co-exist and grow, she said.

“For instance, in India, Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi has promised to implement long-delayed economic and investment reforms. I will accompany President Obama to India tomorrow, where he will serve as the Prime Minister’s Chief Guest of India’s Republic Day ceremony. This marks the first time a sitting US President has visited the subcontinent twice,” Biswal said.

“The Modi government has put a premium on growing its economy and the markets of its neighbours, including in Central Asia — acknowledging a regional growth imperative that for too long has proved elusive,” she said.

India itself boasts of the second largest population in the world and expects 550 million people to occupy its middle class by 2025.

According to the United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects, in 2014, there were 28 mega-cities, 16 of them in Asia. By 2030, it is estimated the world will have 41 mega- cities, of which many will be fuelling Asia’s growth, Biswal said.

“It is clear that South Asia can offer Central Asia a predictable and vibrant market for the future in energy, raw materials, or other goods and services. As we see here, Central Asia is one of the least integrated geographic regions in the world, with only about six per cent of total trade occurring within the region,” she said.

Noting that Central Asian countries and Afghanistan can position themselves to share Asia’s rise, Biswal said, “Expanding trade ties within the region and points south — through Pakistan and to India — can be a game-changer.”

“By connecting to new markets, trade ties can boost political stability within the region and create additional incentives for countries to work together on shared challenges. Having a diverse set of economic connections also reinforces independence and sovereignty,” she said.

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