Policy Statement at the 68th Session of the Commission

Mr. Chairman,
Honorable Ministers,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

The strength, growth and success enjoyed by our region today owe much to those who came before.

In the period of great transition, following the Second World War, Asia-Pacific leaders and policy-makers of vision and foresight came together to forge new ties of solidarity, cooperation and friendship.

They realized then, what we know today – that vision and exceptional leadership are key components in building the Asia-Pacific future we want – but, of themselves they are not enough.

For this reason those leaders laid the foundations of our Commission – regarding the United Nations, even in its earliest years, as the inclusive regional platform to shape policies and build institutions needed to translate visionary leadership into development action and reality.

The task of their time was reconstruction – rising from the ashes of conflict to the challenges of a hard-won peace.

It was a clarity of purpose reflected in the scope and ambitions of the institutions they built, using our Commission, ECAFE, as their platform.

ECAFE created bodies such as the Mekong River Commission, which at the time of its establishment in 1957, was the single largest United Nations development project ever undertaken. Institutions like the Asian Development Bank – established in 1966, to fund the regional fight against poverty; the Typhoon Committee, and the Panel on Tropical Cyclones – which brought new coordination to regional efforts to save lives.

Their foresight, however, wasn’t evident only in the bricks and mortar of new organizations. Our member States also turned to ESCAP to help craft the treaties and regional instruments which have defined our growth and development – those, for instance, which underpin our Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway initiatives.

These were the very real, very tangible legacies of their time, of their generation, of ESCAP.

In this new time of turbulence and transition, sixty five years after the Commission was created to establish regional policy frameworks, treaties and institutions, we must ask the question - what will be our legacy?

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Challenge of Our Time : Growing Better Together

We have already begun to shape the answer.

We see it in the agenda of this 68th Commission – with resolutions to be considered on energy connectivity, paperless trade, and sustainable development.

We see it in the analysis and recommendations of the 2012 Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific.

It resonates throughout our theme study, and is reflected in the dialogues already under way, including those of last week during the Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries.

We know that Asia-Pacific economies can no longer continue the way they have – resource- and carbon-intensive, environmentally damaging, and not to the benefit of all.

Many communities are still, unfortunately, off-track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 deadline. We are now in a race against time, and need a big final Asia-Pacific push to 2015 on the MDGs.

We know that despite our growth, millions remain trapped in poverty and exposed to vulnerabilities – especially in our Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS). At the same time we must not forget that 75 per cent of our poor also live in middle-income countries. The plight of the poor, wherever they live, is often intensified by conflicts, disasters, and the growing illegal economy.

With all this knowledge, with the highest regional growth in the world, with the solidarity of 62 member States, the backing of the UN system and the convening platform provided by ESCAP to forge common solutions, the Asia-Pacific region is poised for another great transformation.

It is time 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.

The challenge of our time, of this generation of leaders, is to grow…better…together.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Identifying Risks & Seizing Opportunities

The success of this new Asia-Pacific transformation is not yet assured. In any time of great transition, there are risks to be addressed and opportunities to be seized.

We must confront the increasing inequalities within and between our member States. With so many people still living in poverty, our region must continue to grow – but this imperative is increasingly challenged by multiple shocks – food, fuel and finance; resource constraints; natural disasters; weak institutional capacities; and poor governance arrangements, which often leave us unable to fully navigate a path through the turbulence.

The old has been weakened, but the contours of the new have yet to be shaped.

The challenges of growth, inclusion and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Interlinked and interwoven, they cannot be separately addressed. Instead they require integrated and multi-sectoral approaches.

The good news however, is that there is now growing capacity in Asia and the Pacific to manage our development and to take charge of our own future. We can already build on our strong economic cooperation with each other to sustain our growth. We need now to close development gaps, by which we can also provide new drivers of regional economic dynamism.

In this time of transition, we need policies and institutions which focus on challenges like balancing growth and inflation; coping with currency flows; addressing jobless growth and unemployment – especially amongst our youth; dealing with disaster risks; and rebalancing our economies towards better-quality growth.

With massive and still-rising levels of Asian urbanization we need to find new ways to make cities safer, greener, more livable, energy & water efficient and sustainable.

We also need urgent action to support the effective management of our ‘blue economies’. Healthy ocean ecosystems are one of the building blocks of sustainable development, and of our shared sustainable future. We have a regional and a global responsibility to support our Pacific island member States in their role as stewards of these critical ocean resources.

Our growth has come at a cost. Asia’s new energy demands are expected to soon exceed those of the rest of the world combined. We need to radically reduce the resource intensity of our energy use and improve our energy efficiency.

Our success, in all of these areas, depends on good leadership, enlightened policy choices, partnerships, strong institutions and democratic governance to address these challenges and shared vulnerabilities - maximizing opportunities for an inclusive, sustainable future for all.

This is why I have focused the work of the ESCAP secretariat on four key priorities to direct and shape our efforts. These are: sustaining Asia-Pacific dynamism; building social inclusion & equity; pursuing sustainable development & resilience; and working for greater regional economic integration and support for countries in transition

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Does Regional Economic Integration Hold the Key?

It is time to use the platform of this Commission to ask, and hopefully answer, some critical questions about what we need to make the most of this time of historic change and opportunity, when we are called upon to be co-creators of our future.

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

Moving forward, how can greater regional economic integration become a key opportunity for Asia and the Pacific in this era of global turbulence and volatility?

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

The theme study proposes a four-pronged policy agenda for your consideration and discussion, as a part of a long-term strategy to build the Economic Community of Asia-Pacific (ECAP), 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.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Creating ECAP: A Four Part Policy Agenda

The first element of this agenda is the question of how should we 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. The theme study presents a number of possibilities and strategic policy options, which I hope will be further explored in our discussions later today during the Ministerial Roundtable.

The second component of the policy agenda is the question of ensuring seamless regional connectivity. How best do we link our less-developed landlocked areas to the more prosperous coastal zones? Asia-Pacific countries are still better connected with the advanced countries of the West, than with most of their own regional neighbors.

ESCAP’s Ministerial Conference on Transport Development, held earlier this year, 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, is it time to think about an integrated regional power system, in effect creating an Asian Energy Highway?

Such a ‘smart-grid’, to better share energy resources, would strengthen energy security, improve efficiency, and promote a greater share for renewables and clean energy, for a more sustainable future.

The third element of the policy agenda proposed by the 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 scaled-up to become more effective? A good example is the Chiang Mai Initiative, funding for which has only recently been doubled to US$240 billion.

In the area of infrastructure financing, while subregional and bond funds have been created, do you – as the leaders of Asia and the Pacific – agree that there is a need for a large-scale regional lending facility to catalyze infrastructure investments across the region? The secretariat is presently elaborating the elements of such a mechanism and I hope to hear your views on these ideas.

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 security and inflation, natural disasters, pressures on natural resources, and reducing carbon space, the region must also urgently address social inequalities, social inclusion and social grievances.

Is it time for our region to design affordable universal social protection systems, which guarantee that basic needs become basic rights?

We need to use this Commission to choose a new development path which is low on carbon but high on prosperity, high on poverty reduction, and high on human security.

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?

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.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

ESCAP has long been a regional parliament for Asia and the Pacific.

The Commission certainly provides the forum envisaged by Prime Minister Nehru in 1947 – for leaders to confer “about the present and the future, and to lay the foundation of our mutual progress, well-being and friendship.”

Thank you for coming to this regional general assembly, for your participation in the 68th Commission session, and for your wisdom, guidance and expertise in the deliberations to follow.

We stand on the cusp of history. The people of our region, and of the world, look to Asia and the Pacific to anchor the growth and stability needed to build a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient human future.

We have the tools which we need. We know the work that must be done. We have to be more innovative and more catalytic. We have to lead by advocacy, build new capacities, and empower people and nations to come together and to advance together.

Shaping the regional actions, institutions and instruments necessary now falls to us.

Let us grow…better…together.

Thank you.