The Horasis Asia Meeting, one of the most prestigious business summits in the world, kicked off at Kolkata in eastern India on Sunday, November 26, with a focus on ‘unity in diversity’ over trade among Asian countries. Attended by representatives from India, China, and Japan, among others, the two-day conference initiated talks between Asian nations in a bid to push for a unified regional business vision. 

The conference, titled after the Zurich-based independent think tank established in 2005, is the first of its kind in India and the second Horasis Asia meeting. The first Asia meeting was held at Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, in 2016. Like other similar events Horasis organizes around the globe, the ongoing conference is presented as a ‘leadership event’ and is an invitation-only meeting of business and government leaders. 

Looking at Horasis’ efforts in holding meetings of global business leaders, with a focus on China, India, and Southeast Asia, the New York Times called it “a kind of junior league World Economic Forum for the emerging markets”, after its first summit. During the two-day conference, divided into multiple simultaneous sessions, delegates will participate in discussions over a variety of issues, primarily focused on challenges and opportunities for global business and regional trade. 

The Kolkata summit had as speakers business and thought leaders from across Asia, addressing issues like Asian business values, the global footprint of corporate Asia, the global reach of Asian brands, and how Asian business leaders can lead the world into a new century. Organized jointly with the government of West Bengal and the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), along with a number of industry partners, the second edition of the Horasis Asia Meeting opened with best wishes from Indian commerce minister, Suresh Prabhu, in a televised message. 

“This event will help India to have a better participation in global trade,” Prabhu said. The participants, including those from governments of smaller countries, such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, stressed on the need for unity across Asia in terms of trade and economy. ICC president and Kolkata-based industrialist, Sashwat Goenka, who noted there was diversity among Asian counties in terms of trade, called for unity among trade bodies in the region. Frank-Jürgen Richter, Founder and Chairman of Horasis, pointed out that the think tank’s Asia Meeting is an experiment, which plans to explore “the ideas of a common Asian dream”. 

In a joint article, days ahead of the Kolkata meeting, Richter and Goenka had pointed out how despite being the world’s seventh-largest economy, with a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion in 2014, Asean — Association of South East Asian nations — “has not yet achieved its major goal of economic integration”. Thought leaders such as Supachai Panitchpakdi, former Secretary-General of UNCTAD, and Yoshito Hori, Founder Chairman of Tokyo-based business school, Globis, called for a more unified Asian business front. 

Panitchpakdi pointed out how Asean is still dogged by problems despite being 50 years in place and how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the US recently quit, has become disruptive for the successful functioning of Asean. Raising similar concerns, Hori, also a co-chair of the Kolkata meeting, said that TPP should be used as a model to motivate countries like Myanmar “to join the Asian initiatives”. He also asked for the need to include Australia in the Asian growth story, besides making India and Thailand a part of TPP. “Asia needs to be more and more inclusive,” he said. 

Panitchpakdi, Hori and others responded to voices from among delegates, who suggested a common market as a possible solution for a more unified Asia. Delegates explained that the demand was not for a common monetary unit like Euro, but for a common marketplace to conduct trade, taking into consideration the concerns raised by participating countries. Pointing out that “necessity is the mother of unity”, Panitchpakdi, one of the senior-most statesmen present, said, “There should be more of geo-economic initiatives instead of geopolitical manipulations.” 

By Drimi Chaudhuri/Kolkata