Addressing East Asia Summit, ESCAP chief outlines how Asian countries can better connect with each other

The top United Nations official in Asia and the Pacific today presented Asian leaders with a new development plan less reliant on exports to the West but places emphasizes instead on greater connectivity within the region.

“The economic crisis has exposed the limitations of a ‘manufactured in Asia–consumed in the West’ model for economic growth,” said Noeleen Heyzer, Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

“There are enormous opportunities to promote intra-regional trade and investment in East Asia.”

Dr. Heyzer was speaking in Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand, at the Fourth East Asia Summit, which brings together the leaders of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand. It was the first time that any United Nations official has been invited to address the group.

In sharing her views on the implications of the global financial crisis and ESCAP’s response in promoting regional connectivity and development, Dr. Heyzer said the UN was promoting eco-efficient connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region through a five pronged approach that encompassed improved transport routes, a “paperless trading system,” investment within the region, energy security and social protection.

“The UN’s work on the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement as well as the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway are cornerstones of this strategy,” she said, referring to the eventual 114,000 kilometres of railway that would link countries from Singapore to Turkey and 142,000 kilometre road network connecting 32 Asian countries with Europe.
Dr. Heyzer also noted that the Asia-Pacific region had more than $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, enabling it to balance it with emerging investment opportunities in regional infrastructure and public goods.

On energy security Dr. Heyzer said the UN was promoting a regional framework that would shift development in Asia and the Pacific to a low-carbon path that ensured universal access for all. “It will connect producers and consumers of energy resources and facilitate new markets for clean and efficient energy technologies,” she said.

The ESCAP chief also stressed that social protection systems not only created the foundations for more inclusive resilient societies, but also made good economic sense. “Providing minimum wage and unemployment insurance will buffer people from financial uncertainties and help drive economic recovery,” she said.

“I stand before you to renew our commitment to work with you to promote inclusive and sustainable development,” Dr. Heyzer told the Asian leaders. “I believe that a more coordinated and connected Asia will emerge from the current crisis a global leader in development.