Regional Integration to Achieve Sustainable Development Asia-Pacific Business Forum 2017

Delivered at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Welcome to the 13th session of the Asia-Pacific Business Forum hosted by the Government of Bangladesh and the International Chamber of Commerce Bangladesh. The ESCAP Business Advisory Council and its Sustainable Business Network need to be acknowledged for their steadfast support to his Forum along with ADB, CitiBank, IFC and the many other cooperating agencies for their contributions.

Regional cooperation is a pertinent theme for this year and is assuming renewed significance. Asia-Pacific’s long standing engagement and traditions have helped promote regional cooperation, however progress is uneven and hence it has left many unrealized opportunities. Recent estimates suggest that our region is only achieving 47 per cent of its integration potential, and among the subregions, the largest untapped potential for integration is in South Asia and in North and Central Asia 1. The private sector can both influence regional integration, and be influenced by it. Private sector participation in infrastructure development, along with the provision of financing and new technologies is indispensable to create the cross-border transport, ICT and energy networks of the future. Governments cannot achieve this alone. In turn, this enhanced connectivity and reduced barriers to trade will open up new markets, reshape value chains and create multiple opportunities for private sector growth.

New drivers of change will bring fresh impetus to regional integration efforts in our region and beyond. Key among these are the adoption of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its emphasis on addressing transboundary challenges; the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community; the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative; and the move of the Eurasian Economic Union to form a single economic space. Adding to this is the renewed interest in moving forward on the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement; and the adoption of fourth round of tariff concessions and framework agreements in investment, trade facilitation and services by the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement.

Boosting regional integration in the Asia-Pacific has the potential to both create economic dynamism, and facilitate shared prosperity through promoting greater market integration, seamless connectivity, financial cooperation and stability, and improved living conditions. The implementation of the 2030 Agenda requires a fundamental rethink to set regional integration processes on a path that incorporates sustainability. If we are to deliver real solutions for sustainable development, we must harness the capacities of business and industries to innovate, bring new technologies to market and to scale up solutions. While the benefits of integration can be significant, they will not be realized without sustained efforts. An enabling policy environment needs to be put in place, and countries must deal with structural bottlenecks including infrastructure deficits, weak institutions and lack of capital.

The private sector can make profound contributions to regional integration and sustainable development by driving productive processes to generate jobs and investment; and green growth to enhance social wellbeing and the health of the environment. Indeed the private sector is interested in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Research indicates that 71 per cent of businesses are already planning on how to engage with the SDGs and 41 per cent say they will embed the SDGs into their business operations2. Through delivering on the SDGs, the private sector could stand to benefit from a potential $12 trillion worth of business opportunities globally, which could create almost 380 million jobs by 20303. It is clear the private sector cannot afford to ignore the SDGs.

Several processes are also currently underway to ramp up private sector engagement with the Sustainable Development Agenda4. Among them, I would like to highlight the global SDG Compass5 initiative, which provides companies with an innovative guide to align their strategies with relevant sustainable development goals, or SDGs, and measure and manage their impacts. Additionally, ESCAP, through our Sustainable Business Network Task Force on Banking and Finance has also developed the Responsible Business Model 2.0, a framework to facilitate companies’ engagement with the SDGs and enhance their ability to address pressing global challenges.

Recognizing the potential of the private sector for sustainable development, it is critical that the Asia-Pacific region develops new forms of partnerships with businesses that go beyond the delivery of traditional government-to-government official development assistance and technical support. Such partnerships must go deeper and should focus on key areas of inclusive and sustainable development that are of mutual interest, including science, technology and innovation, human resource development, infrastructure development and multi-dimensional South-South cooperation.

Governments must also take the lead in ensuring that frameworks and national action plans are in place to allow for greater business contributions to the SDGs and to regional integration goals. Likewise, they must also take steps to eliminate hurdles preventing the private sector from operating effectively, such as irregular or unstable power supply, weak or limited property rights, and barriers to cross-border trade. The Asia-Pacific is home to 17 countries ranked in the bottom half of the World Bank’s East of Doing Business index, including Bangladesh, which is ranked at 176 out of 190 economies. In this context, I would like to highlight the UN treaty on facilitation of cross-border paperless trade, which is currently open for signature, which will serve to cut cross-border trade costs by up to $7 billion per year within the region.

ESCAP supports dialogue among business leaders in our region on issues related to sustainable development, which feed into ESCAP’s normative and policy advice work. ESCAP’s Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development and our Financing for Development Forum; coupled with our endeavors to strengthen regional economic cooperation and integration can serve as effective vehicles to promote dialogue and strengthen cooperation between member States and the private sector.

In this vein I hope to see EBAC reform and consolidate to help support ESCAP in support of the SDGs, and I look forward to the conclusions of the next APBF, which is to take place early next year in Hong Kong. This timing is crucial to enable the outcomes of APBF to feed into the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development and Financing for Development Forum I mentioned above, which in turn, feed into the larger global agenda in New York.

To conclude, this Forum provides an opportunity to further reflect on how the private sector can work with governments and the UN system to progress regional integration and sustainable development. I look forward to your views and perspectives, and hope they can be translated into concrete results and recommendations.

I thank you and wish the Asia-Pacific Business Forum 2017 every success.

1 Naeher (2015). An empirical estimation of regional integration potential using data envelopment analysis.

2 Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2015, Make it your business: Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals,

3 Business and Sustainable Development Commission (2017) Valuing the SDG Prize: Unlocking Business Opportunities to Accelerate Sustainable and Inclusive Growth.

4 Other guidelines, benchmarks and standards for TNCs include the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, ISO 26000 series on social responsibility, and ILO labour standards and conventions. Many of these initiatives are standalone in nature and have only focused on either the environmental or social dimensions of sustainable development, or both, but not all three. In this context, the SDG Compass provides a unique methodology for firms to actively contribute to sustainable development and address all three of its dimensions.

5 The SDG Compass was developed jointly by The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Global Compact, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).