(Geneva, 23-24 June 2003)
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you here, and express my gratitude for your coming to this important conference.
The purpose of this conference is:
- To assess the results of the implementation of the initial goals, agreed upon by five Central Asian countries at the start of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia, five years ago. I would like to remind you that on 28 March 1998, the Presidents of four Central Asian States - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - and the Executive Secretaries of the two United Nations regional commissions - UNECE and ESCAP - signed the Tashkent Declaration on the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA). In November 2002, Azerbaijan joined the Presidential Programme.
- To discuss possibilities of increasing the impact of SPECA by identifying new ways for cooperation.
- To share experience among and strengthen coordination between all multilateral and bilateral actors active in Central Asia.
As you are all aware, SPECA set ambitious initial goals: to achieve efficiency in managing water and energy resources, to integrate the SPECA member Countries into the Asian-European transportation system, to promote sub-regional cooperation and attract foreign investment, to boost the development of SMEs and the development of pipeline transportation of hydrocarbons to global markets.
The results of implementation were, however, mixed and only partially achieved due to various reasons. Lack of resources, instability, lack of political will, and developmental problems such as: underdeveloped physical infrastructure, unsustainable production patterns and, hence, severely damaged environment, were the factors that have slowed down and impeded the realization of the SPECA initial goals.
The Central Asian countries, although very different, have experienced a deep contraction of production, which in some instances, has led to de-industrialization, and a sharp increase of poverty and, hence, to a negative adjustment of human resources. Initial comparative advantages have been eroded, especially in the area of human resources and social welfare. Some of the SPECA member States joined the ranks of the poor developing economies despite the fact that they do not benefit from the official status of developing country in international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.
This does not mean, however, that the sub-region is destined to be marginalized. Central Asia is rich in natural and human resources, and thus its economic potential, if properly utilized, could boost the development process. However, progress in reforms in Central Asia differs considerably: Among the five Central Asian countries there are front runners but also countries that have not completed the basic reforms. Even the front runners have to implement structural and institutional reforms, develop market infrastructure that provides incentives for people to innovate and create new products and services, ensuring sustainable economic growth.
The need for convergence in reforms is indispensable, not only for the sustainability of economic and fiscal developments of SPECA members, but also for deepening the economic integration between them. Most of the SPECA countries have concluded bilateral trade agreements and some are parties to plurilateral trade arrangements. At the same time trade arrangements do not work properly and the parties do not benefit from them adequately. Despite the fact that SPECA is not focused primarily on trade arrangements, the activities of SPECA through the development of cooperation in areas such as transport, energy, water, etc., support economic integration among the SPECA countries.
Cooperation among the SPECA countries in other areas, such as: SMEs, tourism, transport infrastructure, ICT, etc., could further deepen integration to the benefit of the Central Asian countries and could provide its population with new income opportunities and, hence, contribute to reducing poverty.
Although the sub-region is land-locked, its geographical position between Europe and Asia makes it strategically important for the development of global trade and could provide the countries with additional opportunity to earn on transit. The SPECA countries have taken the first step to make use of this opportunity by joining international conventions in the area of transport. They could further improve their position on the global market by facilitating cross border movement of goods, services and people among themselves and, therefore, broadening the economy of scale, reducing inter-state tension and making the sub-region more attractive to foreign investors.
Over the past five years UNECE, in close cooperation with ESCAP, has provided technical support to SPECA countries in implementing their goals mainly in two areas: management of water and energy resources, and transport. The results achieved, while important, are below those initially anticipated. Much more could have been done if all SPECA countries cooperated. This Conference is an opportunity to further develop and extend SPECA activities in order to better meet the expectations of its member States.
It should be also noted that UNECE involvement in Central Asia goes beyond SPECA. The Commission has extended its activities related to the promotion of entrepreneurship, enterprise and SME development to the sub-region, including in the areas crucial for the formation and advancement of the knowledge-based economy.
Using the opportunity of the presence of representatives of partner organizations and the donor community, I would like to invite them to consider possible means to magnify the impact of international assistance to the Central Asian countries, including by joining efforts and pooling resources. There is still a lot of duplication, overlapping and unnecessary rivalry, while sometimes obvious complementarity is ignored.
I would like to wish you success in your deliberations.
Thank you for your attention.