By: Rajneesh De
Thimpu-based SAARC Development Fund (SDF), the cross boarder project umbrella financing institution for the SAARC Member States, is in the process of developing an e-commerce platform for enabling seamless trade of goods and services across SAARC Member States giving a fillip to budding entrepreneurs in the region, This was informed by Dr Sunil Motiwal, CEO of SDF at the sidelines of the two-day SAARC Development Fund Partnership Conclave in Delhi.
According to Motiwal, the initiatives like e-commerce platform along with funding the ‘start-ups’ found an instant support among international funding organizations like the World Bank( WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Start-Up program would include entrepreneurs as well in areas like renewable energy, agriculture, health and micro-enterprises, especially in the MSME segments,” he said.
According to the SDF, currently, only 4% of the total trade of the eight SAARC member nations is taking place within the region. This can be increased significantly by initiatives like e-commerce, a booming business across the world. Stakeholders can work on building common facilities for logistic, warehousing and transportation.
The common e-commerce platform has a great potential for enhancing the intra-SAARC trade and services. For instance, consumers of Bangladesh textile anywhere in the region and even elsewhere can place orders on the e-commerce platform. Likewise, a range of commodities including fruits and vegetables are grown in Bhutan, Pakistan or India can be sold and bought online, immensely helping the producers and the consumers. The region has the age profile of 15-24 years, a perfect fit for online business. Besides, it has a huge pool of skilled manpower, low-cost workforce and abundant natural resources.
On regulatory issues, the SDF plans to connect with regulators, central banks of all the member states and emphasize the underlying potential of online trading. Besides, there is also a proposal of introducing a plastic SAARC money card which can have denominations of all the currencies in the region. As an adjunct, the SAARC member states have also raised issues like speedier visa by the member countries, currency and payment facilitation, trade facilitation at the borders, financial connectivity and reviving the SAFTA into a dynamic trade zone.
Established in 2010 by heads of eight SAARC member states, the Thimpu-based SDF has so far completed the financial closure of $73.75 million of which $47 million has already been disbursed in 12 cross-border projects. It has also granted in-principle approvals for two energy cross-border projects with a commitment of $30 million in the region. With an authorized capital of $1.5 billion and a total capital base of $500 million, the SDF is working to enhance its credit portfolio to $300 million in the next few years by financing a range of projects including renewable sources, transportation, telecom and environment in the SAARC region.