What is SASEC

The South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program brings together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in a project-based partnership that aims to promote regional prosperity, improve economic opportunities, and build a better quality of life for the people of the subregion. SASEC countries share a common vision of boosting intraregional trade and cooperation in South Asia, while also developing connectivity and trade with Southeast Asia through Myanmar, to the People’s Republic of China, and the global market.

SASEC Vision

The SASEC Vision, and its supplement, SASEC Vision – Myanmar, articulate shared aspirations of SASEC countries, and set the path to achieve these through regional collaboration. These documents lay out a plan to transform the subregion by leveraging natural resources, promoting industry linkages for the development of regional value chains, and expanding the region’s trade and commerce through the development of subregional gateways and hubs.

SASEC Operational Plan

The SASEC Operational Plan presents the strategic objectives of the SASEC partnership, and the operational priorities of the four main SASEC sectors—transport, trade facilitation, energy, and economic corridor development. It is supported by a list of potential projects regularly updated by SASEC countries to be implemented during 2016-2025.

SASEC Projects and Technical Assistance

As of February 2023, SASEC countries have signed and implemented 79 ADB-financed investment projects worth around $18.41 billion in the transport, trade facilitation, energy, and economic corridor, and health sectors. The transport sector accounts for the majority of projects (46 projects worth over $13.17 billion), followed by energy (16 projects worth over $2.92 billion), economic corridor development (8 projects worth over $1.94 billion), trade facilitation (5 projects worth around $328.15 million), and ICT (2 projects worth $20.80 million). The health sector was included into SASEC operational priorities in 2022 and added $25.92 million to strengthen COVID-19 recovery through 2 regional cooperation projects.

Source: SASEC Project Portfolio, as of February 2023

Source: SASEC Project Portfolio, as of February 2023

ADB-financed technical assistance has supported SASEC investment projects throughout the subregion, regional cooperation forums and knowledge-sharing initiatives, and pilot projects since 2001. A total of 146 national and regional technical assistance projects (cumulatively worth $206 million) have assisted countries in strategic planning, project preparation, and have supported SASEC forums, and capacity-building and knowledge-sharing events.

Trade Snapshot

The tables below give a snapshot of trade, from 2020 to 2022, in the SASEC subregion, using International Monetary Fund (IMF) data on export, import, and international trade. Intraregional trade share among SASEC countries moved down by 1% in 2022 compared to 2020 and 2021.

Trade - Export/ Import

Source: IMF Direction of Trade Statistics via ARIC Database, as of March 2023

Intraregional Trade

Source: IMF Direction of Trade Statistics via ARIC Database, as of March 2023

Logistics Performance Index (LPI)

The average 2023 LPI score for Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Sri Lanka is 2.9. The four countries garnered an average score of 2.6 for customs; 2.5 for infrastructure; 2.8 for international shipments; 2.9 for logistics competence; 2.8 for tracking and tracing; and 3.1 for timeliness. No new data is available for Maldives, Myanmar, and Nepal.

Source: World Bank LPI (accessed May 2023)

Note: The LPI overall score reflects perceptions of a country's logistics based on six core dimensions: (i) efficiency of customs clearance process, (ii) quality of trade- and transport-related infrastructure, (iii) ease of arranging competitively priced shipments, (iv) quality of logistics services, (v) ability to track and trace consignments, and (vi) frequency with which shipments reach the consignee within the scheduled time. The scores for the six areas are averaged across all respondents and aggregated to a single score using principal components analysis. A higher score indicates better performance.

Economic Outlook

Asian Development Outlook

South Asia is projected to grow faster than other subregions in Asia, with real gross domestic product (GDP) estimated at 5.5% in fiscal year (FY) 2023 and 6.1% in FY2024. Growth within South Asia is expected to vary, with India projected to grow by 6.4% in FY2023 and 6.7% in FY2024 behind strong domestic demand. In Bangladesh, GDP growth is estimated at 5.3% in FY2023 owing to global economic disruptions and 6.5% in FY2024. In Bhutan, hydropower production will push growth to 4.6% in FY2023 and 4.2% in FY2024. Growth in Maldives is estimated at 7.1% in FY2023 and 6.9% in FY2024, supported by a boom in tourism and construction. In Nepal, growth will slow to 4.1% this year before picking up in FY2024 at 5.0% with a recovery in tourism and infrastructure. Sri Lanka is projected to contract at -3.0% in FY2023 before recovering to 1.3% in FY2024 premised on debt relief and key reforms. In Southeast Asia, Myanmar's GDP will rise moderately to 2.8% in FY2023 and 3.2% in FY2024.

Source: Asian Development Outlook April 2023 (ADB)
South Asia Economic Focus

GDP in South Asia is estimated to grow at 5.6% in fiscal year FY2023 and 5.9% in FY2024, backed by the recovery in services and lower commodity prices. GDP growth in Bangladesh will decelerate to 5.2% in FY2022-2023 due to global economic uncertainty, before recovering to 6.2% in FY2024. In Bhutan, GDP is projected to expand at 4.5% in FY2022-2023 as the further reopening of borders support growth in industry and services. GDP growth in India will moderate to 6.3% in FY2023-2024 following slower growth in consumption. Maldives is seeing a return to the tourism sector's pre-pandemic levels with GDP growth projections in FY2023 at 6.6%. Growth in Nepal will slow to 4.1% in FY2023 following import restrictions, before rising to 4.9% in FY2024. In Sri Lanka, amid fiscal and external imbalances, GDP growth is estimated at -4.3% in FY2023 and 1.2% FY2024. In Southeast Asia, the Myanmar Economic Monitor projects Myanmar's economic recovery accelerating to 3% in the year to September 2023 following growth in industry and services.

Source: South Asia Economic Focus, Spring 2023 (WB)