Enhancing Regional Economic Integration to Build the Regional Future We Want

ESCAP Executive Secretary, Noeleen Heyzer at High-level Policy Dialogue Preparatory to the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Integration. 20 August 2013

Opening Statement as Delivered by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer,
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

Bangkok, 20 August 2013

Honourable Vice Minister Mr Mahendra Siregar,
Honorable Mr. Farooq Sobhan,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this preparatory meeting for the First Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Integration. This meeting is extremely important as its outcome should help in preparing a concrete policy agenda to be discussed and adopted at the Ministerial meeting to be held in December. Our goal is to enhance regional economic integration to accelerate inclusive, sustainable and resilient development of the region.

That is indeed highly relevant in the current global economic environment. The world has suffered from a major global financial crisis, whose aftershocks continue to resonate. For the global economy, these are difficult times.

The outlook for the advanced economies of the West remains highly uncertain, and it seems unlikely that they will continue playing the role of the region’s main engines of growth that they played in the past. Throughout the region, Asia-Pacific leaders are seeking ways and means to sustain dynamism in a dramatically changed global context.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fifty years ago the region was also at crossroads. It was devastated by conflicts and poverty, a battleground for the superpowers and for local wars, and a place where new independent states were taking their first, incipient steps towards rebuilding their economies.

Some of the courageous and visionary men and women that shaped the Asia-Pacific history 50 years ago made key decisions at meetings similar to the one we are holding this morning.
They used this house to find ways to rebuild their economies - together.

In 1959 Sri Lankan Premier Bandaranaike, articulated for the first time the idea of creating a regional development bank for Asia and the Pacific. In December of 1963, the First Ministerial Conference for Asian Economic Cooperation held in Manila and chaired by the Philippines Secretary of Commerce and Industry, Balmaceda, adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of an Asian Development Bank.

The proposal received wide support in March of 1965, during the 21st session of ECAFE as the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific was then known, which approved a resolution to set up a high-level consultative committee of experts to advise and assist in the formulation of measures for the establishment of the Bank – which started operations by the end of 1966.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fifty years later, it is time again for the region to rise to the challenge. We need to forge a new paradigm for development – to find new engines of growth and sustainable ways to drive them forward.

It is time to reset our thinking, create new policy frameworks and regional instruments to build the future we want.

As we have expressed in the past, the challenge of our time, of this generation of Asia-Pacific leaders, is to grow… better… together.

If we get it right for Asia and the Pacific, we get it right for two-thirds of humanity.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Greater regional economic integration can become a key opportunity for Asia and the Pacific in this era of global turbulence and volatility, which has become our new normal.

That was the focus of our 2012 theme study: Growing Together – Economic Integration for an Inclusive and Sustainable Asia-Pacific Century.

That theme study proposed a four-pronged policy agenda for your consideration and discussion, as a part of a long-term strategy to build an economic community of Asia-Pacific, to best exploit the potential of regional economic integration and achieve a more resilient and sustainable Asia Pacific, founded on shared prosperity, and social equity. A number of leaders of our region have articulated such a vision of an economic community in recent times, and the time may have come to move towards that long-term goal.

The first element of this agenda is to build a broader, more integrated Asia-Pacific market – to connect high- and low-growth countries in economic ‘corridors of prosperity’, to spread the benefits of regional growth to all – what I call shared prosperity. The theme study presents a number of possibilities and strategic policy options, which I hope will be further explored in your discussions later today.

The second component of the policy agenda is to ensure seamless regional connectivity. How best do we link our least-developed landlocked areas to the more prosperous coastal areas? We should also talk about our ‘sea-locked’ Pacific island countries as well. Asia-Pacific countries are still better connected with the advanced countries of the West, than with most of our own regional neighbours.

ESCAP’s latest Ministerial Conference on Transport Development outlined priority areas of work to realize the vision of an international, integrated, inter-modal transport and logistics system.

Similarly, considering the uneven distribution of energy resources across the region, it is time to enhance regional cooperation to formulate and implement coherent energy policies based on individual national circumstances and development aspirations and evolve what I call an Asian Energy Highway, as discussed during the Asian and Pacific Energy Forum held in Vladivostok in May of this year.

The third element of this policy agenda we have placed before you, and which has been proposed by the Theme Study for your discussion, is financial cooperation to better deploy regional savings for productive purposes, and to close infrastructure gaps in the region by further developing our regional financial architecture.

Most initiatives in the area of regional financial cooperation are in their early stages of evolution. Should these be up-scaled to become more effective? A good example is the Chiang Mai Initiative of Multilateralization, funding for which has recently been doubled to US$240 billion.

In the area of infrastructure financing, while subregional and bond funds have been created, keeping in mind huge investment requirements of the region, it is time for us to think of a large-scale regional lending facility to catalyze infrastructure investments across our region.

The fourth element of the policy agenda is to provide a coordinated regional response to shared vulnerabilities. Beyond the most obvious of these, such as food and energy security, rising incidence of natural disasters, pressures on natural resources, and reducing carbon space, the region must also urgently address social inequities, social inclusion and social grievances, especially along fault lines of communal, religious, and gender violence .

It is time for our region to design affordable universal social protection systems, which guarantee that basic needs indeed become basic rights. There is also a need for this region to choose a new development path that is low on carbon but high on prosperity, high on poverty reduction, and high on human security. In this respect there is a great scope for learning from each other in designing such systems.

How can we find fresh solutions to persistent problems through research, innovation and technological development? How can we unleash the creativity, entrepreneurship and agency of our people – especially our youth, who are impatient for accountability, and for results?

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I look forward to your wisdom, guidance and expertise in the deliberations to follow. Through discussions about policy agendas, institutions and regional instruments to achieve our long-term vision of an economic community of Asia-Pacific, the region will be in a stronger position not only to sustain its dynamism but also to embrace a more inclusive and sustainable pattern of development. That is what we are here for.

I wish you very successful deliberations.

Thank you.