Dean Einhorn of SAIS thanks Ambassador Subasinghe for being one of the architects of the SAIS-SAARC Ambassadors’ Forum

Forum to provide an opportunity for discussion of SAARC issues

Ambassador Subasinghe says convening of the SAARC Ambassadors’ Forum is timely and the forum will engage
in a useful dialogue to inform U.S. policy and enhance academic research interest on South Asia

The inaugural session of the SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University) -SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Ambassadors’ Forum was convened on May 21, 2004 at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University. The inaugural session involved a panel discussion entitled, “National Perspectives on SAARC and Regional Economic Integration.”

The panelists comprised Jessica Einhorn, Dean of SAIS, Ambassador Denvinda R. Subasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Rakesh Sood, Charge D’Affaires of the Embassy of India, Mr. Rudra Nepal, Charge D’Affaires of the Embassy of Nepal, Mr. Syed Hasan Ahmad, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Bangladesh, Mr. Kinga Singye, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the UN and Mr. Ashraf Hayat, Minister (Trade) of the Embassy of Pakistan. The session was attended by a representative gathering of policy makers, academics, graduate students, journalists and diplomats.

The SAIS-SAARC Ambassadors’ Forum is a unique and timely development in the US Capital given the enhanced US focus on South Asia. Diplomatic representatives of the seven SAARC countries who participated as panelists discussed their respective viewpoints on the objectives of SAARC and the impact of recent developments stemming from the January 2004 SAARC Summit in Islamabad in which regional economic cooperation was the focus.

Jessica Einhorn, Dean of SAIS in her opening remarks thanked Ambassador Subasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States and SAIS graduate, for his initiative to collaborate with Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in launching this forum on SAARC and for mobilizing the support of his SAARC counterparts. Dean Einhorn highlighted that the Forum would provide an opportunity for discussion of important contemporary issues that are salient to SAARC, and that it will provide a platform and intellectual arena for SAARC Ambassadors to share their views and gain visibility in Washington. Mentioning that the Forum would be driven more by contemporary themes than by events, Dean Einhorn said, “building on the most recent set of SAARC principles in Islamabad and the positive developments that emerged, this is an opportune time to give Washington a closer look at the SAARC organization and the prospects for cooperation among the South Asian States.”

Ambassador Subasinghe recalling his days at SAIS as a graduate student said that the SAIS-SAARC Ambassadors’ Forum is indicative of the heightened US interest and focus on policy towards South Asia. Focusing on the advantages of this forum he said, “the forum will enable us to engage in a useful dialogue to inform US policy makers as well as to enhance academic research interest in the region.”

Presenting Sri Lanka’s perspective, Ambassador Subasinghe said that Sri Lanka is an active member of the SAARC, continuously seeking to add momentum to the realization of the Association’s key objectives. Describing the country’s underlying rationale for regional economic cooperation Ambassador Subasinghe highlighted that over 70 per cent of the country’s GDP is generated by trade and therefore access to regional markets and the global market is critical for economic growth and poverty alleviation. Sri Lanka’s trade policy is predicated upon developing Sri Lanka into a regional trading, trans-shipment, air and financial hub. Sri Lanka being the pioneer in free market economic reforms in the South Asian region, offering the most liberal business environment in the region since 1977, the country seeks to enhance her opportunities through bilateral, regional, sub-regional, and multilateral partnerships. It is precisely for this reason that Sri Lanka is a member of regional and sub-regional associations such as the SAARC, the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IORARC) and the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and has embarked on bilateral trading partnerships with India and the US. These include the successful Free Trade Agreement concluded with India, the scope of which will be further enhanced with the completion of the Indo-Lanka Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

Ambassador Subasinghe in his concluding remarks said, “ SAARC has discovered the potential of collective effort to not only face common challenges but also to deploy that collective capability to realize economic dividends for its people.”

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

21 May 2004

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