UN’s Noeleen Heyzer Calls on Central Asia to Strengthen Ties with Rest of Asia for Inclusive Economic, Food and Energy Security

There is need for greater cooperation between Central Asia and the rest of Asia in order to find solutions to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in the current climate of global financial instability, food and energy insecurity.
That was a key message from the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), UN Under-Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer, at the third session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA).

Launched in 1998, SPECA aims to strengthen sub-regional cooperation – mainly in the areas of energy and water, transport, trade, technology, gender and economy – in Central Asia, as well as its integration into the world economy. Its member countries are Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. ESCAP and its European counterpart, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), jointly provide overall support to the activities under this programme.

“We are gathering here against the backdrop of a gloomy economic environment with pressing challenges in food and energy security, as well as the need for greater financial stability," Dr. Heyzer said in her address. “In such an environment, the need for promoting greater regional cooperation is paramount.”

“By adopting the South-South cooperation modality, SPECA can provide home-grown solutions and policy options to achieve inclusive and sustainable development,” she added.

The Governing Council is SPECA’s supreme management body and is composed of senior policymakers from SPECA member countries and the Executive Secretaries of ESCAP and UNECE. This year’s Council meeting is the first that Dr. Heyzer has attended since assuming office late last year; she is also holding high-level meetings with Russian Federation officials while in Moscow.

Dr. Heyzer told the Council that ESCAP stood ready to facilitate technical and regional cooperation and provide a neutral platform for engaging in policy dialogue – and that its assistance also extended to strengthening links between Central Asia and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.

She cited the ESCAP-led initiatives of the Asian Highway and Asian Railway as examples, noting how these achievements connect Central Asia with the rest of Asia and Europe;
ESCAP’s hosting last year of a meeting of experts from SPECA and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to discuss trade facilitation; and, a mid-term regional review of the Almaty Programme of Action. The Programme addresses the special needs of landlocked developing countries and establish a new global framework for action for developing efficient transit transport systems in landlocked and transit developing countries.
Other items which Dr. Heyzer raised in her speech included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal to the UN General Assembly of a joint ESCAP-UNECE office in Central Asia within the framework of SPECA, and joint missions by her and her UNECE counterpart to the capitals of the Council’s members in order to further explore ways in which the region’s transnational challenges can be addressed.
Earlier today, the Executive Secretary addressed the 2008 SPECA Economic Forum, jointly organized by the Russian Federation and the United Nations and attended by ministers, senior government officials, business leaders, academics and development organizations. Under the theme Investment Partnerships for Stronger Economic Cooperation and Integration in Central Asia, the focus of the SPECA Economic Forum is on promoting investment in transport, energy and water.
In her remarks there, Dr. Heyzer said that the SPECA region contains a significant part of the world’s natural resources and these have the potential for helping the region achieve successful development outcomes.

“One of the main issues for the region is how to make the most of the opportunities that globalization offers to tap these resources in an economically-, socially- and ecologically-balanced way,” she said, adding, “Choices now made will have profound implications for many decades.”

ESCAP estimates that the total average annual investment and maintenance requirements in transport infrastructure for North and Central Asia total $22.9 billion from 2010 to 2015, and another $40 billion is needed annually for developing energy infrastructure. Dr. Heyzer noted that investment decisions in Central Asia needed to go beyond solely considering financial rates of return so that the development outcomes are inclusive.

“It is necessary to put social inclusion in the heart of investment decisions, as business can only thrive in a stable and inclusive society,” Dr. Heyzer said. “The beneficiaries should not be only a few, but all sections of society.”

She added that ESCAP’s contribution – as the intergovernmental body with universal membership in Asia and the Pacific – will be to provide the platform for sharing good practices and linking Central Asia with the rest of Asia.

Dr. Heyzer’s other activities in Moscow include bilateral meetings with the Russian Federation’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Natural Resources, Energy and Transport and Railways.