Central Asia Economy and Regional Trade

Feature | 21 November 2011

The thriving east-west trade that once spanned Central Eurasia along the famed Silk Road may soon be restored to its former glory thanks to growing transport and trade links being rolled out under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.

Since the launch of CAREC a decade ago, the 10 member countries from the Caucasus, Central, East and South Asia and six multilateral institutions have been working closely together to construct transport corridors, promote energy security, and remove trade barriers.

During this time they have shed outdated trade policies and adopted new rules to increase commerce. In addition, about 4,000 km of road and 2,250 km of railway lines have been built or upgraded. Simplified and harmonized customs procedures have been put in place, and border posts have been improved to speed up and increase transnational flows of people and goods.

CAREC has also supported new electricity transmission lines and upgraded power plants.

Total investments to date have reached around $17 billion, spanning energy, trade and transport.

What Next?

When ministers from CAREC member countries meet this week in Baku, Azerbaijan, they will be able to celebrate this decade of achievements. But they also know they have much unfinished business to move the CAREC agenda forward.

"The first decade of CAREC put in place a framework for cooperation and carried out regional projects as a means to achieve development objectives of member countries,'' said Juan Miranda, Asian Development Bank (ADB) Director General for Central and West Asia. "In the next decade, CAREC will help boost international trade and improve the competitiveness of member countries through a program of strategic regional investments in transport, trade facilitation, and energy.''

The ministerial conference, scheduled for 22-24 November 2011, will launch CAREC 2020 as the new roadmap for the challenging years ahead. This will provide a blueprint to help member countries expand intraregional trade, spur competitiveness in the broader global economy, and reposition Central Asia as a crucial transit point for trade between East and West.

ADB and CAREC

ADB has provided assistance of about $5.5 billion to CAREC since 2001, including ring road, rail and electricity projects in Afghanistan, and the East-West Corridor in Azerbaijan. These are flagship programs that embody CAREC's ideals and vision.

In energy, ADB has financed regional transmission lines, including a critical link that now supplies continuous electricity to Kabul from neighboring Uzbekistan. ADB is also working on capacity building and cross-border agreements for faster and cheaper customs transit.

About CAREC

Established in 2001, CAREC brings together Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It promotes the implementation of regional projects in energy, transport, and trade facilitation from northern PRC to the Caucasus and Europe, and from Kazakhstan to the warm water ports of Karachi, Gwadar and beyond.