Central Asian cooperation forum seeks lessons from South and South-East Asian integration

A regional economic cooperation forum of Central Asia and Afghanistan meet this week to discuss how integration experiences of other Asia-Pacific subregions can help promote sustainable and inclusive growth among its members amidst the current global economic uncertainty.

Government and business leaders from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, together with intergovernmental organizations and financial institutions working in Central Asia, are attending the 27-28 November event convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to discuss ways to harness regional integration to drive the post-2015 global development agenda in these countries.

Opening the Forum, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP said: “This meeting will review what I call both the building blocks and the stumbling blocks of regional economic integration across Asia, especially in terms of regional organizations – and will identify good practices and lessons learned that can be adapted to meet the challenges of Central Asia.

“Regional economic integration has become ever more important in our quest to find new drivers of regional growth, in support of shared and sustained prosperity. National, and even bilateral approaches, alone are no longer sufficient to address these challenges. Regional solutions, through regional cooperation, can be the way for us to forge more sustainable economic growth, close development gaps, and help lift tens of millions of people still in poverty. ESCAP’s work in support of SPECA focuses on trade, transport, water and energy – key areas which are central to any subregional and regional integration in Central Asia.”

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UNECE, Sven Alkalaj declared: “The lack of functioning regional organizations and institutions in Central Asia has negative consequences for these economies. SPECA offers neutral UN expertise in the very areas where regional economic cooperation provides the greatest added value such as trade, transport and border crossing.

“Supported by the two UN Regional Commissions, SPECA offers a framework for providing a subregional perspective to the broader discussions on the post 2015 Development Agenda. I am convinced SPECA can play a key role in the practical follow-up to and implementation of the Rio+20 outcomes, in particular those related to the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction.”

The 2012 SPECA (United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia) Economic Forum with the theme “Strengthening Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration in Central Asia by Sharing the Asian Experience” aims to learn from the successes and challenges of regional economic integration in similar blocs, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

SPECA addresses key economic and environmental cooperation issues among its members, directly influencing sustainable development, stability and security in the region. Following the June 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), SPECA is facilitating stronger regional cooperation aimed at balancing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development as pledged by world leaders at the Conference.

As part of the Programme’s role in supporting reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, the SPECA Bangkok Forum was preceded by a side event on 26 November titled “Review of Work in the SPECA Framework in Support of Implementation of the Decisions of the Fifth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan”. The Forum will conclude with the 7th session of the SPECA Governing Council, the top policymaking body of the forum which was set up 13 years ago to speed up integration of the then new Central Asian countries into the world economy.

The strategic importance of Central Asia makes it a unique region, and this is highlighted by the significant role it plays in the energy security of Europe and Asia, its connective potential as a transport hub between two continents, and its active role in the fight against such global security challenges as terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking.

The region also faces unique challenges. All of the member countries are landlocked, with divergent economic development, and a rapid growth gap between the income levels of energy-exporting and non-energy exporting States.

In turn, Central Asian States face the urgent task of diversifying their economies, moving away from their present status as energy and commodity exporters. Strengthening regional cooperation is a key precondition for the rapid, balanced and sustained economic development of all the countries of the region. Only through close regional cooperation can they fully capitalize on their strategic advantages and fight jointly and effectively the challenges that can potentially destabilize the region.

ESCAP Subregional Office for North and Central Asia
The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) Subregional Office for North and Central Asia (ESCAP-NCA) is one of four subregional offices across Asia and the Pacific. It provides targeted and in-depth technical assistance, capacity building, cutting-edge data, and policy advice to our member States, supporting their efforts to address the priority issues of this subregion. It also serves as a joint office for the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).