BIMSTEC Secretary General Sumith Nakala said on Saturday despite limitations, South and South East Asian countries under the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation are performing better with US$ 77 billion intra-regional trade than those under the SAARC.
But he said full potential of regional integration is needed to be tapped through economic integration and materialisation of political commitment.
The BIMSTEC secretary general was addressing a session on trade and regional integration during the SANEM Annual Economists' Conference held at the BRAC Centre on Saturday.
Chaired by Executive Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Mustafizur Rahman, the session was also addressed by CPD additional director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem and professor of the Department of Economics North South University Dr AKM Atiqur Rahman.
Dr Saman Kelegama of IPS of Colombo, Dr Prabir De of RIS of New Delhi, Sandeep Kaur Bhatia of Central University of Punjab, India and Kishore Kumer Basak of CPD presented papers during the conference.
Mr Nakala said intra-regional trade by the BIMSTEC member-countries was recorded at US$ 77 billion during the last few years in spite of the absence of any free trade agreement whereas it was only $ 45 million by the SAARC member-countries.
Despite the achievement, the secretary general said there is no integration due to lack of agreements by all member-countries on different issues.
"It is important to take integration process forward in the interest of all member-states as the BIMSTEC is a member-driven regional group like the SAARC," he said.
Mr Nakala, however, expressed the hope that trade and economic integration will be possible as the European Union like other regional cooperative bodies took quite a long time to be where it is today.
The CPD Executive Director laid importance on regionalisation for focusing on market-driven regional integration and said Bangladesh should be cautious about giving transit and connectivity to get benefits of market.
Citing example of trade with the northern part of India, he said the country's focus should be more on the whole region than looking at only one per cent of export market share by exporting juice and biscuit-like products.
Dr Rahman also stressed on connectivity, trade facilitation, investment and people-to-people movement for economic integration.
Other speakers also focused on the importance of connectivity, trade facilitation, customs harmonisation, standard certification, investment and people-to-people contact as prerequisites to regional and economic integration and said efforts should be made more on minimising uncertainties.
They also focused on making effective use of investment treaties and binding commitments made at political and economic levels by signing different agreements.