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Bishkek Conference on Information Society and Regional Cooperation in Information and Communication Technologies for Development

16-18 November, Bishkek
Statement on behalf of UNECE and UNESCAP
Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová
Executive Secretary of UNECE

Mr. First Vice Prime Minister,
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the two regional commissions of the United Nations: the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this important event, jointly organized by the Government of Kyrgyzstan, UNECE and UNESCAP, the UN ICT Taskforce and UNDP, from 16 to 18 November 2004.

I commend the Government of Kyrgyzstan for hosting this meeting and I also congratulate the President for his foresight when already in 1997 he declared his intention to lead your country into the information age.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Information and communication technology (ICT) is one of the driving forces of globalization and also an important tool to reduce poverty and to promote socio-economic development. To understand the economic and social implications of the Information Society, it is necessary to put this phenomenon in a wider context. In particular there are three important aspects for Governments, business, and community leaders to consider: (i) the challenges to close the digital divide, (ii) the opportunities provided by regional integration, and (iii) the new knowledge-based economy - which has become an engine of growth in developed market economies.

Firstly, you may be aware that the e-assessment of 16 member States provided by UNECE and the assessment of e-readiness of countries by the World Bank and recent ITU statistics, show a growing digital divide among and between UNECE/UNESCAP members in Central Asia and Caucasus and our other members in Europe and in Asia and the Pacific. The challenge of bridging the digital divide between the ICT-advanced countries and countries with economies in varying stages of development and transition is pressing. However, some policies can be identified to help bridge the divide. These are:

(a) Improving ICT infrastructure and ensuring affordable access to and availability of information and knowledge for businesses and households;
(b) Supporting the practical application of ICT, especially in the areas of e-government, e-health, e-education, e-business and e-tourism;
(c) Enhancing efficiency and transparency in the delivery of public services to citizens through ICT;
(d) Promoting the integration of e-strategies into national economic and social development plans;
(e) Increasing human resource capacity to meet the challenges of the information society;
(f) Introducing an appropriate regulatory framework.

In our respective areas of competence both UNECE and UNESCAP can provide assistance at the policy as well as the technical level.

Secondly, with its central location, Central Asia is a region of geopolitical interest and together with its great natural resources and vast human potential it has become the focus of new interest for the international community. I believe that this conference can confirm that regional cooperation and integration are essential for long-term economic growth, poverty reduction and social stability leading to human development and security. Good examples of regional cooperation are the establishment of the Regional Communication Commonwealth and SPECA. I trust that the conclusions of this conference will reflect this potential for regional cooperation in ICT.

Thirdly, transformation to a knowledge-based economy is a complex process that needs to be driven by a government’s strategies, in cooperation with other stakeholders. In particular investment in human capital is a central investment for a knowledge-based economy. The emergence of the knowledge-based economy is shifting the focus from production workers to knowledge workers. Workers engaged in using information to produce goods and services are beginning to play a central role in economic growth. Investments to develop, upgrade and improve the skills and expertise of the workforce are therefore crucial for increasing competitiveness. Furthermore, world markets are increasingly integrated, intensifying competition and creating new opportunities, and knowledge and innovation are emerging as key assets. International structural, institutional and business linkages and cooperation are therefore crucial for knowledge economy policy.

The development of the knowledge-based economy is based on using ICT in transforming the structure of governance, institutions, innovation policy, business models, education, telecommunication and services, etc. No knowledge economy can develop without a comprehensive effort of learning and education. Typically Western developed countries spend 5-7 % of their GDP on education, Central European countries 4-5 % and Central Asian Countries 2-4 %. These figures underline the importance of a shift in priorities in order to ensure sustained change.

Both UNECE and UNESCAP have a responsibility to support the transitional economies in their efforts to transform their economies. We are providing assistance in legal, regulatory and standardization matters; providing transition economies with an information, meeting and advisory platform; and facilitating new business processes and applications for information technologies.

In the UNECE we are e-mainstreaming all aspects of our work to make full use of the new IT tools. This not only includes the use of ICT to support work in substantive areas like environment, transport and statistics but we also actually develop and set IT standards. We are in the forefront with developing standards for electronic data interchange (UN/EDIFACT), web-based standards and the integrated use of paper and electronic trade documentation (UNeDocs project) in the area of trade. In the area of transport, UNECE is examining new technologies known as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and introducing provisions on these new technologies into relevant UNECE Agreements and Conventions, to make transport more efficient, safer and more environmentally friendly. Finally, the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) actively promotes the principles of an Information Society beneficial to all.

In the cause of its reform and revitalization, UNESCAP has put ICT at the forefront of its activities in the three thematic programme areas of poverty alleviation, managing globalization and emerging social issues in the countries of Asia and the Pacific including the countries with economies in transition.

Upon request from member countries, UNESCAP is organizing four sub-regional meetings to generate inputs to the draft Regional Action Plan towards building a broad-based Information Society in Asia and the Pacific, Internet Governance and Financial Mechanisms for ICT for Development, and this Bishkek Conference is the first one in this process. At the end of the four sub-regional events, UNESCAP will organize a final high-level regional meeting which will finalize inputs to the global discussions on Internet Governance and Financial Mechanisms and a regional input to the Tunis phase of WSIS.

UNESCAP will focus on bridging the digital divide and will work closely with the private sector and other stakeholders in areas such as e-government, e-learning, e-business, e-health, e-environment, e-agriculture and e-science. The ESCAP secretariat will emphasize the following three roles:

1. A lead role in the follow-up to Phase I of the World Summit and preparations for Phase II. This was mandated by the Commission at its sixtieth session, held in Shanghai, China, last April.
2. The role of a major partner in national initiatives to promote regional cooperation and the development of e-policies and regulatory framework, like the Asia broadband programme.
3. A catalytic role in national, sub-regional and regional initiatives to promote ICSTs for development, such as e-Asia.

As many of you are aware, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently launched an initiative to reinvigorate the Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) - a programme jointly supported by UNECE and UNESCAP - which is aimed at promoting cooperation among Central Asian countries and supporting their efforts towards integration into the world economy. It is expected that the thematic scope of SPECA will be broadened in the near future to include new areas of cooperation and we are very encouraged that Azerbaijan intends to take the lead within the SPECA framework in matters related to ICT development and fostering regional collaboration in this vital area.

Furthermore, at the international level, every effort should be made to remove obstacles to the application of ICT in order to ensure access and use for all. Two of the most pressing issues identified in the WSIS Plan of Action are Internet governance and the financing of ICT for development. Together with their member countries, the UN regional commissions will strive to develop concrete approaches to resolving these issues.

Together these measures can contribute to the realization of an Information Society in your countries. However, this alone will not be sufficient and each country will need to put effective actions in place. I hope the Asia-Pacific Regional Action Plan, as well as your commitments to strengthen regional cooperation in this area, will guide you in that direction. Both UNECE and UNESCAP are prepared to assist you further in your efforts towards building an inclusive Information Society in the sub-region.

I wish you great success in your deliberations.

Thank you for your attention.