The 12th South Asia Economic Summit (SAES XII), organised by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) on September 26 and 27, 2019, in Colombo, brought to light several key opportunities and challenges facing the South Asian region in the new digital era.
Achieving growth, stability and equity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), tackling the challenges in the world of work, promoting innovation and regulating the emerging technologies, were some of the main issues discussed during the SAES XII, under the overarching theme of ‘Shaping South Asia’s Future in the 4IR’.
Speaking at the summit, former Nepal National Planning Commission Vice-Chair Swarnim Waglé highlighted that one of the main advantages of the 4IR is that it will increase connectivity, which will change production in South Asia by allowing the region to exploit global production chains. It will also increase employment opportunities, creating new paradigms, jobs and
markets, he added.
However, while the 4IR may allow developing countries in South Asia to leapfrog development stages and achieve rapid growth, it could also widen inequality in the region.
Presenting an example of this issue, IPS Director Research Nisha Arunatilake noted that even though the government of Sri Lanka has started a ‘smart school’ concept in the country, it is only implemented in 65 of the 10,000 schools in Sri Lanka, due to resource constraints.
Therefore, governments need to be creative when exploiting the opportunities presented in this digital era, she said.
Another challenge is tackling issues related to the labour markets in South Asia. As pointed out by the speakers, the trends in the 4IR are shifting the nature and organisation of the labour markets in many ways.
Sri Lanka MAS Holdings Strategic Transformation Lead Tehani Renganathan pointed out that the 4IR will undoubtedly impact the labour force with new categories of talent and capabilities emerging while compromising and enhancing the existing labour.
In this regard, Bangladesh Centre for Policy Dialogue Executive Director Fahmida Khatun highlighted that the development of skills catering to new demands of the 4IR is vital.
“Here, fiscal policy plays a key role. We need more public expenditure to improve the quality of education. Active resource mobilisation and taxation are also crucial,” she emphasised.
Meanwhile, speaking on the role of the governments in the 4IR, Economic Analyst and Author Pranjal Sharma warned that over-regulation can hinder innovation and hold countries back in the new digital era.
“If governments want to promote innovation, they need get out of the way! The only thing governments should watch out for is monopolistic behaviour. If someone is getting too big, break them up. As they shatter, something new will come up and there is innovation,” he stressed.