Australia is working to address the low levels of intra-regional trade and poor connectivity in the region and to close South Asia's infrastructure gap.
Regional cooperation and integration is vital for long-term inclusive growth, sustainability and stability but currently intra-regional trade in South Asia stands at only five per cent of total trade. Improved connectivity and reduced trading costs would increase access to goods and markets; improve economic opportunities, including for the poor; and promote private sector development. All these factors would accelerate the South Asia region's economic growth and poverty reduction efforts.
Another major constraint to increased connectivity in South Asia, both within countries and within the region, is the lack of trade related infrastructure, particularly in the energy and transport sectors. Significant investment in infrastructure is needed to meet the region's development goals and help achieve broad-based economic growth.
From 2019, Australia will commence a new four-year infrastructure initiative to improve economic integration in South Asia and between South and South East Asia through sustainable infrastructure investments. Funding will contribute to analysis, policy and regulatory reforms and knowledge sharing to improve infrastructure investments. Support will enable infrastructure projects to be consistent with the following principles:
- transparency and non-discrimination and promote fair and open competition
- upholding robust standards (including social and environment safeguards)
- meeting genuine needs
- avoiding unsustainable debt burdens, and
- supporting regional economic growth.
South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program (World Bank)
$25 million 2014-2018
Through the South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation program (SARTFP), managed by the World Bank, Australia is supporting gender-sensitive trade facilitation, infrastructure connectivity, and livelihood and enterprise development initiatives. SARTFP seeks to improve border trade and connectivity in the eastern sub-region of South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN)), with a particular emphasis on enabling women's inclusion in trade and economic activity.
Infrastructure for Growth (World Bank)
$20 million 2012-2016
Through the Infrastructure for Growth program, Australia focused on fostering an enabling environment for infrastructure development to meet infrastructure gaps both within countries and across the region. The program addressed regional economic integration (integrating lagging regions; regional economic development; rural-urban connectivity) and climate change (clean energy and renewables; energy efficiency; cities and climate change).
Australia had contributed grant funding to support analytical work, the provision of technical assistance, as well as support for knowledge products to assist policy and institutional reforms related to regional connectivity and continues to deliver benefits for the region. The program engaged in work that shaped and directed the policies and programs of much larger investments undertaken by national governments themselves, or in collaboration with multilateral development banks.