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UNECE supports cooperation between Central Asian nations, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan to strengthen multilateral rules-based trading system

High-level decision makers from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have come together for strengthened action to harness trade as a driver of sustainable development.

Under the auspices of the Trade Working Group of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), UNECE brought together representatives from the seven participating countries to discuss key topics of regional cooperation and sustainable trade development. This took place at a SPECA high-level meeting on 4 July at WTO headquarters, during the WTO Aid-for-Trade biennial review.

Three countries (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) were represented by Vice Ministers and chief trade negotiators, two (Afghanistan and Kazakhstan) by Ambassadors to UN and WTO who had been chief trade negotiators on ministerial level, and the other two by high level policy-makers.

The countries made a commitment to advance in five areas that would strongly benefit their economies and populations:

  • The countries agreed to strengthen trade policy cooperation between their Governments: something that would significantly improve their positions in WTO negotiations and trade liberalization, thus contributing to SDG target 17.10. Countries are most successful in using the benefits of the international rules-based trading system under the WTO when they work through regional cooperation groups. Mr. Badriddin Abidov, Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and chief negotiator on WTO accession of Uzbekistan noted that this regional cooperation has huge potential to facilitate the effort of Uzbekistan to join WTO.
  • They agreed to finalize a regional SPECA Trade Facilitation Strategy that would give a strategic and coordinated approach to implementing trade facilitation, which the high-level representatives of the countries estimated as vital for the sustainability of efforts to implement trade facilitation in the region. This Strategy will be further reviewed by the countries and presented for adoption by the SPECA Governing Council in November 2019.
  • Finalize a set of principles for regional trade development that is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. This set will also be presented for adoption by the Governing Council and will benefit policy planners for sustainable development in the SPECA countries.
  • The countries also agreed to support UNECE in carrying out a SPECA region-wide study on non-tariff barriers to trade. Properly defining NTBs is a key step towards indicating the right way of dealing with them. On the other hand, it is important to define clearly the subtle distinction between non-tariff measures that are necessary for sustainable development and non-tariff barriers to trade.
  • The countries also supported the idea to enhance their cooperation with UNECE, ESCAP, IRU, GIZ and other partners to foster transit in the SPECA subregion, notably through the implementation of the TIR Convention, administered by UNECE, helping to turn Central Asia from a periphery to a centre for the TIR regime.

Mr. Zavqi Zavqizoda, First Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan and Mr. Ezizgeldi Annamuhammedov, Deputy Minister of Finances and Economy of Turkmenistan, noted that progress on all these issues will materialize at the SPECA Economic Forum on Connectivity: Sustainable Transport and Trade Facilitation in the SPECA Subregion, to be held on 20-21 November 2019 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. It is expected that four documents discussed at this week’s meeting in Geneva will be brought to the SPECA Governing Council for adoption on 21 November 2019: the SPECA Trade Facilitation Strategy, the principles for sustainable trade, the proposal for a SPECA study on non-tariff barriers, and revised Terms of Reference for the SPECA Working Group that will reflect the above developments.

Ambassador Mohammed Haqjo of Afghanistan and Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanova of Kazakhstan recalled the challenges of accession to WTO and their cooperation with UNECE on trade facilitation matters, and expressed willingness to collaborate with their neighbours. Kazakhstan will host the WTO Ministerial meeting in 2020, and cooperation with the neighbours in the SPECA subregion is a positive contribution to Kazakhstan’s efforts in trade liberalization.