Monday, November 05, 2007

Central Asia: Building new silk roads

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, eight member countries of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program have agreed to a strategy to improve Central Asia's transport infrastructure.

The plan was agreed at a two-day CAREC ministerial conference ending today in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

The meeting brought together ministers from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Representatives of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and five other multilateral institutions also attended.

The CAREC Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy calls for $18.7 billion investment over the next decade in six new transport corridors, mainly roads and rail links. Members of the bloc will provide about half of the needed funding, with the rest coming from organizations such as the ADB.

Demand For Supply

Robert Siy, director of ADB's regional cooperation division for Central and West Asia, says the project will facilitate Central Asian trade while also improving access to global markets.

"There's a lot of resources, a lot of products in Central Asia that are very much in demand both in South Asia as well as in Europe. And these transport corridors will enable those goods to reach very big markets," he said in a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service. "These corridors will become the priorities in terms of investments for the countries in Central Asia under the CAREC program as well as for the different multilateral institutions that are financing economic development projects in the region."

The plan also calls for the improvement of border crossings to facilitate the flow of trade.

Ministers at the meeting also endorsed a plan to establish the CAREC Institute. Siy said its first purpose is to enhance the capabilities of CAREC government officials to engage in regional cooperation processes and to plan and implement regional cooperation projects.

"We need to make sure that official in governments as well as representatives in the private sector understand the opportunities for regional cooperation and are able build the partnerships that will enable some of these very important projects to materialize," Siy said.

The institute will also conduct research to look at the opportunities and benefits of regional cooperation.

"We hope that the institute will identify maybe some innovative projects, some innovative partnerships, that then the governments as well as the different multilateral institutions will be able to pursue," Siy said.

Ten-Year Plan

The ministers agreed to a shared vision for their region for the next decade, including the aspiration that all countries will be members of the World Trade Organization. A joint statement also says that by 2018, governments aim to "fulfill Central Asia's potential as an energy hub" to ensure no community is without reliable and affordable electricity.

Initiated in 1997, CAREC is an initiative supported by the ADB to encourage economic cooperation in Central Asia.