How Desirable is the South Asian Free Trade Area? A Quantitative Economic Assessment
The proliferation of preferential trading agreements (PTAs) in different regions of the world has been a significant development over the last two decades. South Asian countries have been slowly moving towards a South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in recent years. The desirability of SAFTA has been questioned by some observers recently. Will SAFTA create gains for its members or not? Is it better for South Asian countries to promote non-discriminatory trade liberalisation rather than SAFTA? The main objective of this paper is to address the above questions, especially the desirability of SAFTA, using a global computable general equilibrium (CGE) model. From the existing empirical and theoretical studies, we have identified three viewpoints on the desirability (or viability) of SAFTA: pessimistic, optimistic, and moderate. The results from two policy scenarios (unilateral liberalisation and SAFTA) confirm the pessimistic view by showing that unilateral liberalisation would benefit South Asian countries much more than preferential liberalisation (SAFTA). In fact, under preferential liberalisation, small countries in the region would gain little or even lose. The present political climate in South Asia also seems to support the pessimistic view.
The World Economy
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