Central Asia Set to Take Major Step Forward in Regional Cooperation

News Release | 12 October 2006

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (12 October 2006) - The eight countries participating in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program are expected to take a major step forward in broadening and deepening the program at a meeting in the People's Republic of China (PRC) next week.

The meeting - 5th Ministerial Conference on CAREC - opens on Wednesday in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, PRC.

Over three days, it brings together ministers and senior officials from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, PRC, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; as well as senior representatives of CAREC's six partner multilateral institutions (MI), bilateral and other regional organizations.

"At the Conference, Ministers will consider a Comprehensive Action Plan to guide the strategic management of the CAREC Program and will also discuss ways to accelerate the momentum of regional cooperation in Central Asia and its neighbors," said Craig Steffensen, Head of ADB's CAREC Unit.

"The Action Plan represents a significant step forward in terms of clarifying the program's mission, goals, and agenda for the coming years. It should enable the program to strengthen its important contribution to economic growth and social development," he said.

On Monday, about 200 private sector representatives and government officials will also gather in Urumqi for the first CAREC Business Development Forum. The Forum is intended to discuss investment opportunities in CAREC countries and explore ways for the private sector to play a more active role in regional cooperation initiatives.

CAREC is a broad partnership of the eight participating countries and six MIs - ADB, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Monetary Fund, Islamic Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, and World Bank.

The Program aims to promote practical, results-based regional projects and policy initiatives critical to trade expansion, sustainable development and meeting new challenges in a rapidly growing and increasingly integrated "Eurasian supercontinent."

Initiated in 1997, the program's goal is to improve living standards and reduce poverty in CAREC countries through more efficient and effective regional economic cooperation. The program is focused on financing infrastructure projects and improving the region's policy environment in the priority areas of transport, trade facilitation, trade policy, and energy. For the three-year period 2006-2008, CAREC's six MI partners plan to provide more than 40 loans to participating countries worth over $2.3 billion in support of regional investments in the priority areas.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the newly independent states of Central Asia experienced a severe economic decline and a sharp deterioration in social indicators. Given their landlocked location, small size, and distance from major world markets, regional cooperation has the potential to greatly improve their economic development.

ADB research suggests that if the global economic environment remains favorable, and if Central Asian countries press ahead with economic reforms and regional economic cooperation, per capita incomes could double by 2015.

While commodity exports, especially of oil and gas, will be a primary driver of growth, manufactured exports of some countries are also expected to increase strongly. As a result, the incidence of poverty could fall from more than 40% today, to 25% or less within 10 years. This would be a major achievement and an incentive for improved cooperation.