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South Asia, Neighbors to Hold 2nd High Level Forum on Regional Cooperation
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Leading government officials from South Asia and neighboring countries are meeting in Manila this week for a second round of high level talks on regional cooperation which will take stock of progress on work done to boost trade, and to develop cross-border road corridors and energy infrastructure.
The Second High Level Forum on Emerging Vision for Shared Prosperity: South Asia and Beyond, hosted by ADB, is being held at its headquarters from 12-13 August, 2010. Among those attending are government representatives from South, Southeast, and Central Asia, as well as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretary General, Sheel Kant Sharma. ADB is led by its President, Haruhiko Kuroda, Managing Director General Rajat M. Nag, South Asia Department Director General, Sultan Hafeez Rahman and Central West Asia Department Director General, Juan Miranda.
South Asia has taken many steps to boost regional cooperation over the past 20 years, including establishing a free trade area in 2006, and reducing tariff and nontariff trade barriers. However it is lagging East Asia in terms of regional integration.
The first High Level Forum in 2009 identified key focus areas of increasing physical connectivity, improving trade facilitation, and developing cross-border energy infrastructure and trade in power. This year’s event will focus on strengthening implementation in these key focus areas.
In his welcoming remarks to open the forum today, Mr. Kuroda spoke of the connectivity, energy availability, and trade facilitation challenges that face the region, and the need to address these challenges in the regional context to boost growth and alleviate poverty.
“The ongoing and proposed regional projects in information and communication technology, transport and energy are likely to make substantial impact on poverty reduction and inclusive growth by improving productivity and generating employment and income,” Mr. Kuroda said.
ADB has supported many regional integration initiatives in South Asia both with direct finance, by helping to catalyze funds from the private sector, and through capacity development work. It has approved a multi-country infrastructure investment project to give regional tourism a boost, supported a road project for Bhutan that will have cross-border benefits, and provided wide-ranging technical assistance to regional bodies, including SAARC.
On a broader scale, ADB is aiming to increase allocations for all regional cooperation activities to 30% of its total operational spending by 2020. It has allocated more than $1 billion, or 10% of the resources of its concessional Asian Development Funds to regional projects between 2009 and 2012. It has also expanded its regional Trade Finance Facilitation Program from $150 million to $1 billion, and is working on an Asian Infrastructure Financing Initiative to pool resources for regional infrastructure needs.