A South Asian Union?

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Photo Source: University of Texas

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

The European Union serves as platform for multilateral discourse amongst 27 member states fostering regional integration through the uniformization of policies, currencies, human rights and environmental norms. Initially created to nurture negative peace and harmony post World War II, it aims to uphold positive peace through economic prosperity and cultural integration till date. According to the World Economic Forum, its successes include but are not limited to the “creation of the world’s largest single market generating a GDP of 16,5 trillion according to the IMF, representing 22.8% of the world’s total”. From banishing the death penalty to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, it has attracted states that possess three key characteristics: “political, with stable institutions underpinning democracy; economic, with a functioning market economy; and legal, with the acceptance of EU law and practice”. In light of the aforementioned advantages, several states are willing to democratize. While the above criteria may seem objective, there is far more compromise and effort that comes with joining an international organization. States endure decreasing border control, surges of populist movements, cross-border migration, an entrusted shared responsibility and dominance of economically powerful countries with unfulfilled promises of development. This article highlights the possible ways in which the South Asian Union similar to the European Union can prove to increase regional integration and connectivity.

From China’s One-Belt One Road Initiative to India’s Neighbourhood policy, South Asian states are attempting to foster economic, cultural and poliltical integration in the light of securing peace and prosperity. It is crucial to note that the key characteristics of the South Asian Union will greatly differ from that of other regional Unions which will foster further and swift integration especially of countries that linger to the side-lines of key regional issues.

#1: Devising legal migrant routes to prevent economic downfall banning the hawala system

The “hawala” system is an illegal method of “money transfer without money movement”. This system is an informal network of people who transfer money involving a high-level of trust to cross-borders illegally. While this system can serve as an efficient and less bureaucratic method, its key characteristics such as minimal documentation, anonymity and lack of legal monitoring serves as a fertile basis for money laundering and criminal activities. In addition, the hawala system has severe macro-economic implications. Since the hawala system is a form of IFT (Informal Funds Transfer) it has “fiscal implications on both countries (remitting and receiving) since direct or indirect tax is not in order” according to the International Monetary Fund. While this does not have direct implications for regional economic integration, it prevents countries from economic losses due to integrated routes devising a more efficient solution for regional refugee issues.

#2 Combatting the Covid-19 pandemic and healthcare crises

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has proven the need and feasibility of high-scale and swift cooperation amongst states. Different states in South Asia have initiated the lockdown at different times. For instance, China declared a national lockdown on the 23rd of January 2020 which was not in tandem with other states. With the possible formation of a South Asian Union all South Asian states would consider a lockdown at the same time or even gauged the situation better to take a coordinated decision. This decision would greatly prevent the spread of the virus stooping the numbers to lower than they are today. With a South Asian Union all states would possess the same health and hygiene standards. If not, multilateral cooperation and efforts from other states would secure these. For instance, other South Asian countries could pinpoint the need for China to eradicate its wet markets which has proven to be a potential cause for the virus through set hygiene standards. Moreover, the EU commission, provides all patients with cross-border healthcare facilities. For economically underdeveloped countries, more economically developed countries would have a shared responsibility to ultimately prevent the rapid spread of the virus in the region and beyond. In terms of cure, just like the European Union research funds that are currently funding innovation and research for the vaccination, the South Asian Union can fund research without the burden being on the shoulders of a few countries only.

#3 Reduction of the implementation gap through national policies that have regional economic implications

India’s recent Neighbor’s first foreign policy is the epitome of regional cooperation and integration with neighboring countries to combat violence in Bangladesh while resolving anti- Indian trajectories and sentiments in Pakistan. This need for cooperation stems from the fact that the downfall of one country economically and otherwise will ultimately impact regional stability and prosperity of the region as a whole. The question that still persists is: What is the relevance of a South Asian Union when India has free trade agreements with its neighbors. It is crucial to note that due to complex interdependence India is inextricably linked to other states especially its neighbors which are inextricably linked to others states within the region. Geopolitical and economic changes in countries that are not neighbors to India will affect India’s neighbours and hence India. For instance, the geopolitical conditions of Maldives will affect the geopolitical conditions of China even if Maldives is not India’s neigbour and invariably impact India’s through China. The creation of a South Asian Union can prove to be far less bureaucratic and more transparent rather than a web of free trade agreements through negotiation on a larger platform. The presence of uniform standards of free trade can more efficiently produce low-cost high-quality goods with constant monitoring fueling economic prosperity of the region as a whole. More developed states will be more concerned even about the economies of lower developing countries due to this interdependence uplifting the region as a whole.

#4 The creation of environmental policies with regional standards promoting environmental integration

It is impractical for the entire international community to have a uniform environmental policy because countries in the Global North are far more economically developed as compared to countries in the Global South. Expecting countries in the Global South to live up to and adhere to the environmental standards of countries in the Global North is a far-fetched and unfair ideal. However, this issue does persist with states in the same region to a relatively minimal extent. Largely, states in the Global South tend to have similar geopolitical and economic structures that align with each other making the implementation and monitoring of regional environmental policies far more effective than a standard universal one. Shared policies of corporate environmental responsibilities and negotiable standards for all countries, more or less developed in the same region can foster not only the economy but improve the structural health of the system and the region as a whole.

In conclusion, it is crucial to consider that the South Asian Union cannot and is not attempting to mimic the European Union but simply considers the possibility of creating a body that fosters integration not just with neighbouring states but with the region as a whole. The creation of a union does not imply that states have to compromise on their national sovereignty and the extent to which they do depends on the outcome of their negotiations. In a highly interdependent and globalized international community, regional integration to combat pressing challenges is paramount more than ever before.

By Salwa Mansuri

BSc Politics and International Relations

REFERENCES

BLAKEMORE, E., 2020. How The European Union Rose From The Ruins Of WWII. [online] National Geographic. Available at:

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