Enhancing regional economic cooperation and integration important to advance the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific

A United Nations meeting in Bangkok today concluded that fostering regional economic cooperation and integration (RECI) in Asia-Pacific holds great potential to further reduce poverty, and advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the high-level dialogue brought together senior officials and experts from the region to identify challenges and propose recommendations for enhancing RECI to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The meeting highlighted that RECI has assumed renewed significance given emerging threats from attempts to dislodge globalization and derail multilateralism, evolving political challenges and dynamics, and opportunities offered by the all-encompassing 2030 Agenda.

Opening the two-day meeting, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar emphasized that ESCAP has a long standing mandate for promoting RECI in Asia and the Pacific. “Over the past three decades, RECI has benefited our region significantly - powering trade, economic growth and stability. It has attracted investment as markets were liberalised and competitiveness increased, and strengthened the ability of policymakers to overcome domestic challenges,” said Dr. Akhtar.

“Our region’s experience tells us that deepening RECI holds great potential to further reduce poverty and deliver inclusive sustainable development. It needs to be at the heart of our efforts to meet the SDGs,” she added.

Delegates attending the meeting emphasized that RECI and the 2030 Agenda are mutually reinforcing processes and have to be pursued in a way that they support each other. It was noted that RECI can bring about enormous opportunities for increasing income and employment and eventually contribute to achieving the SDGs, in particular transboundary goals.

Dr. Akhtar underscored that the approach to RECI has to be reoriented, so it is guided by the framework of the SDGs. The Executive Secretary highlighted that RECI can advance implementation of the SDGs by generating opportunities for enhancing employment across the region, thereby contributing directly to decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9), and affordable and clean energy (Goal 7). It also strengthens the means of implementation and contributes towards revitalization of global partnership for sustainable development (Goal 17).

During the deliberations, participants proposed four key recommendations to advance RECI in Asia and the Pacific. These included: the full implementation of the Framework Agreement on facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade, which would further enhance market integration, reduce non-tariff barriers and reach multilateral agreements; the need to build on existing bilateral intergovernmental agreements to realise the vision of seamless connectivity in the areas of transport, energy and ICT; the strengthening of regional financial cooperation and crisis management capacity; as well as collectively addressing shared vulnerabilities, particularly for transboundary disasters.

As its share of world GDP increases and as protectionist sentiment grows in Asia-Pacific export markets, the case for strengthening RECI to support intraregional trade and investment as an engine of regional growth is clear. Since the onset of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008, the share of Asia-Pacific’s traditional export markets, as a percentage of global GDP, has decreased. With a combined GDP of $27 trillion and a 40 per cent share of global export, robust growth in the Asia-Pacific would set it on course to become the most important market in the world.

The first Ministerial Conference on RECI was held in December 2013, where representatives of ESCAP member States adopted the Bangkok Declaration, setting the agenda for RECI in the Asia-Pacific region.