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Fostering regional cooperation on trade in Central Asia

In Central Asia, increasing regional cooperation on trade is key to realizing the region’s potential as an integrated regional market and as a nexus connecting the European and Asian markets. In order to discuss and identify potential avenues for reinforcing regional cooperation, countries from the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) and international stakeholders participated in a seminar on 3 July 2015.

Central Asia’s international trade has developed significantly since the creation of the SPECA Project Working Group on Trade ten years ago. Trade with China has developed most: imports have grown six times, and exports eight times, resulting in a positive trade balance for the SPECA countries as a whole. The main trading partners remain the European Union, China and Russia. However, intraregional trade amongst SPECA countries, which 10 years ago was at the same level as trade with China, has grown only three times, well below the potential that could be created through a regional market that is free of excessive internal barriers, and supportive to regional supply chains.

Vice Ministers from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and representatives of other SPECA countries expressed strong support for strengthening regional action.

Both the UNECE and participating countries stressed the need for international organizations such as ITC, UNCTAD and WTO to work together to support trade in Central Asia including, in particular, trade work under SPECA, 

Participants also called for accrued efforts to attract more development activities and partners to the region in addition to those who were participating in the seminar which included, in addition to ITC, UNCTAD and WTO: ESCAP, UNDP, UNIDO, the UN Regional Centre for Central Asia, OECD, GIZ, USAID, the Islamic Trade Finance Corporation, and the Emerging Markets Forum.

The following priority areas for work were identified:

  • Developing national and regional trade facilitation and development strategies Trade facilitation, especially support for Single Window projects, has been, traditionally, a strong element of SPECA’s work in the area of trade;
  • Supporting integration into the global rules-based trading system (WTO), an objective covered in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and including: assistance in accession negotiations; a forum for exchanging experiences between countries on national trade policies and positions in the WTO negotiations; readiness assessments and implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement; and support for the establishment of national trade facilitation bodies;
  • Drafting a regional study on procedural and regulatory barriers to trade in Central Asia, with a view to drafting recommendations for action to eliminate them and further develop a regional market;
  • Promoting regional supply chains in specific products important for the region;
  • Developing regional projects in support of trade in agricultural products;
  • Ensuring cooperation and interoperability among Single Window mechanisms for export, import and transit clearance in the countries of the region; and
  • Ensuring that trade policies and practices are not detrimental to the environment.

The results of the seminar will be used to re-shape SPECA’s work on Trade, including the evolution from a “project” working group to a more policy-oriented one and an enhanced focus on regional cooperation.

The high-level seminar on 3 July was organized by UNECE, in cooperation with other international organizations, upon suggestion from Mr Nazriyev, First Deputy Vice Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan and Co-Chair of the SPECA Project Working Group on Trade. It was held back to back with the fifth WTO Aid-for-Trade review meeting (30 June - 2 July) during which UNECE also organized regular briefings to help the delegations of SPECA countries benefit fully from the events at the WTO.

For further information, please contact:

Mario Apostolov
Regional Adviser on Trade
tel.: +41 (0)22 9171134
fax: +41 (0)22 9170037
mob. +41 (0)79 2790936
e-mail: mario.apostolov@unece.org