• English

International Conference on Strengthening Economic Cooperation in Central Asia and the Future Role of SPECA

Astana, 25-27 May 2005
Opening Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

Mr. Permanent Secretary, Ministers, Excellencies, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mr. Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by expressing my sincere gratitude to our Kazakh hosts for the excellent arrangements and their warm hospitality. Also my thanks go personally to H.E. Foreign Minister Kassymzhomart Tokaev, the initiator of this Conference and the driving force behind the impressive work accomplished by its organizers.

I would also like to thank the Governments of SPECA member States for their active support to the joint efforts of the two UN Regional Commissions to implement the initiative of the UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan on strengthening the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia. During recent consultations carried out – together with my colleague, Mr. Kim Hak-su – in the capitals of SPECA member States we received clear indications of strong support to sub-regional economic cooperation and collected a wealth of fresh ideas and concrete proposals.

Mr. Chairperson,

Almost a decade and a half have passed since SPECA member States became independent and started their transition to full-fledged market economy. It has been and still is a complicated process: market reforms, programmes to diversify their economies and steps to meet the challenges of global economic integration had to be implemented at the same time. Social problems, first of all widespread poverty as well as environmental degradation inherited from the past, further complicated the realization of these programmes. Disadvantages of geography – their land-locked status and distance from major markets – added to their burdens. Despite all these difficulties, the sub-region has achieved impressive results: its economic growth has in recent years been faster than the average economic growth of other transition economies. The Governments of SPECA member States are making serious efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

As early as the mid-nineties, sub-regional economic cooperation was identified as one of the most important crosscutting issues, directly influencing the economic development and stability of all Central Asian States and their integration into the world economy. Driven by the conviction that every country in the sub-region would benefit from closer economic ties among themselves, the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia was established in 1998 by the Tashkent Declaration. It is a Programme for the promotion of sub-regional economic cooperation, initiated and owned by the six member States. Since then, a number of initiatives have been launched – often at the level of Presidents – to strengthen sub-regional economic cooperation or even move towards integration, like the idea of a Central Asian Free trade Area, a Common Market or a Union. International financial institutions and UNDP have provided significant support to sub-regional economic cooperation: the establishment of CAREC greatly helped to improve coordination of these efforts.

Despite progress in several areas, economic cooperation among SPECA member States still lags behind the requirements of their economies and is well below the level which is necessary to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by global economic integration. It is crucial to achieve further deepening of sub-regional economic cooperation in Central Asia in order to maintain economic growth and stability in the whole sub-region.

This Conference gathers together all interested parties – SPECA member States, their neighbours, representatives of regional and sub-regional organisations, international financial institutions, bilateral donors, members of the UN family, as well as the private sector and civil society. It offers a unique opportunity for joint thinking and the search for new, more efficient ways of strengthening sub-regional economic cooperation as well as better-coordinated assistance to these efforts by the international community.

I invite all participants to engage in an open, creative and result-oriented discussion on the issues on our agenda.

I invite SPECA member States to share with us their vision of future cooperation among themselves: which are the key areas where improved cooperation would bring the best results, create the greatest synergies and provide the strongest multiplier effects? What technical assistance could the international community offer to the implementation of their high-level initiatives on sub-regional cooperation?

I invite neighbouring countries to identify those areas where large, regional projects would benefit the most from improved sub-regional cooperation. In what areas are they ready to participate in activities extending beyond the borders of the SPECA region?

I invite sub-regional and regional cooperation organisations to discuss how technical assistance by the UN Regional Commissions and their partner organisations present here could facilitate the implementation of their regional cooperation initiatives?

I invite participants of CAREC to tell us how technical assistance by the two Regional Commissions within the SPECA framework could best complement the large-scale projects implemented by them. How stronger cooperation between the two programmes – SPECA and CAREC – could be made more substantial and better complement each other?

I invite bilateral donor agencies to engage with us in a constructive discussion on how better coordination of programmes implemented by international funding agencies and the UN family on the one hand, and bilateral programmes on the other, could increase synergy, complementarity and help reach the critical mass necessary for real change.

I invite the participants in the parallel round tables to present fresh ideas on how women, academia, researchers, universities and the private sector could best benefit from and contribute to improved sub-regional economic cooperation and building knowledge-based economies in the region.

The timing of this conference could not be more auspicious. The experience and lessons learned in the last decade and a half concerning sub-regional economic cooperation provide a solid basis for our deliberations. This Conference is a unique opportunity for the Governments of the sub-region to share with us their views on the most efficient forms, institutional structure and key areas of international assistance to strengthened economic cooperation among them.

The UN, facing the biggest reform of its history, would particularly benefit from such a clear message. To quote the Secretary-General: “Reform must be rooted in a new consensus among governments on…what [the United Nations] can do best, what it should do with others and what is should leave to others do.” 1 The UNECE, a co-organizer of the Conference, is also undergoing reform: it is in the process of determining “what changes to the role, mandate and functions of UNECE are necessary in light of the changes in the European institutional architecture…” 2 There is full consensus among member States that UNECE technical assistance should be focused on areas, where it is most needed, in particular Central Asia. I invite SPECA member States to formulate a strong and clear message: how can UNECE increase and improve its technical assistance to the sub-region? What institutional and other changes are necessary to guarantee highly efficient and stable long-term support to SPECA and the projects implemented within its framework? The Chairman of the UNECE, Ambassador Roux of Belgium, will join us tomorrow, so these proposals will be directly conveyed to all member States of UNECE.

UNECE and UNESCAP will also present a comprehensive proposal to reform SPECA. It is based on the results of consultations we have jointly carried out with Dr. Kim in all six member States. We hope that these reforms will help revitalize the Programme and increase the interest of all member States in active participation. We also propose to open up the governing bodies of the Programme, so all our partners who are interested in improved coordination can participate in the formulation of strategies and implementation of decisions. It is proposed that Afghanistan is invited to join the new, reformed SPECA: it would be a step fully justified by geography, history and also economic considerations. The enlargement of SPECA would offer considerable advantages: it would be a contribution to international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and at the same time facilitate the implementation of projects which are designed to improve the transport routes from Central Asia to the nearest seaports.

Besides boosting longer-term reform efforts, we hope that new ideas and initiatives produced by the Conference will be turned directly into concrete programme proposals and activities. Therefore a series of meetings of the thematic Working Group will take place during the Conference to consider ideas contained in the UNECE and UNESCAP 2005-2007 Work Plan of activities in support of SPECA. We are open to partnerships in the implementation of the Work Plan with all interested parties and I would strongly encourage all of you to join discussions in the meetings of the Working Group.

I am looking forward to our deliberations and fruitful results of the Conference.


1Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 17 January 1997 2Decision of the 59th Annual Session of UNECE