URUMQI, PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA - More than 200 business leaders and policymakers gathered here for the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Business Development Forum (BDF), exploring the vast opportunities for private and public sectors to enter into partnerships for development.
The BDF is a follow-through effort of the Regional Business Roundtable (RBR) held in Bishkek last year and sought to deepen awareness of the region's development potential and investment opportunities.
Participants made recommendations on the development of energy, mining, agribusiness, finance, and tourism opportunities for consideration by CAREC Ministers who meet in Urumqi on Thursday and Friday. The forum also identified specific impediments to increased investment in each sector and opportunities for public-private sector partnerships.
Participants urged CAREC to initiate bold measures that will allow business to serve as an engine of growth in the region. In making this call, the participants voiced a need for governments to minimize bureaucratic procedures.
Among the recommendations presented by the forum are:
- CAREC countries need to undertake urgent initiatives to finance the region's massive infrastructure requirements, estimated to be $2 billion-3 billion annually, in close cooperation with the business sector and multilateral institutions. These efforts need to be strongly supported by financial sector institutions in CAREC and as such, urgent measures to stimulate these institutions are required.
- The region-wide harmonization of business-related general and sector policies is essential to make the region more attractive to foreign ventures. CAREC governments need to undertake this to demonstrate their commitment to making regional cooperation happen. CAREC, as a regional mechanism, can play an important role in this process, with the necessary inputs from business.
- The business community in the region needs to assume a stronger role in achieving CAREC's primary aim of helping raise the living standards and reducing poverty in Central Asian countries through more efficient and effective regional economic cooperation.
- For each CAREC government to designate a business focal person to ensure that efforts and mechanisms to involve the business community in CAREC are rapidly implemented. It is also important that concrete resources are identified to explicitly support these efforts.
- The pursuit of economic growth must proceed with adequate concern for social and environmental issues. These concerns must be included in the plans and activities of CAREC and its individual member countries.
Participants pledged to support regional cooperation efforts by working with governments and multilateral institutions on key programs and projects to spur growth.
"Development needs to be responsive and sustainable," said Craig Steffensen, CAREC Head in a statement read at the end of the conference.
"The CAREC Business Development Forum confirmed the importance of the private sector in regional cooperation efforts. Participants urged CAREC to initiate bold measures to allow business to serve as an engine of growth in the region. In making this call, businesspeople voiced a particular need for governments to minimize bureaucratic procedures and to implement policies in a more transparent manner."
The BDF was organized by the Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China (PRC), ADB, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in cooperation with the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.
The CAREC Program, initiated by the ADB in 1997, aims to improve living standards and to reduce poverty in CAREC countries through more efficient and effective regional economic cooperation. To date, the Program has focused on financing infrastructure projects and improving the region's policy environment in the priority areas of transportation, energy, trade policy and facilitation, areas critical in improving the region's economic performance. The Program includes eight countries in the Central Asian region, namely, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, PRC (focusing on Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.