The CAREC program has financed roads, railways, and energy infrastructure across Central and West Asia. Its new strategy will build on this success and take the program in new directions.

Regional cooperation is critical to development in Central Asia. Since 2001, the Asian Development Bank has supported the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program as it plans, finances, and builds infrastructure to support economic growth.

The program, which brings together Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People's Republic of China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, has made significant contributions to the region’s growth.

CAREC financing has helped build or rehabilitate more than 8,500 kilometers (km) of road and more than 5,000 km of rail across 6 transport corridors, strengthening connectivity and trade within and outside the region.

More than 9,000 km of power transmission lines have been constructed, supporting the expansion of energy trade between energy surplus Central Asian countries and energy deficit countries in South Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CAREC Ministers in October adopted CAREC 2030, a new long-term strategy that will take the program to its third decade of operations. Sean O’Sullivan, ADB’s Director General for Central and West Asia, says the program is set to build on its success and expand its areas of work.

How does regional cooperation support development in the CAREC countries?

There is a real benefit for all if countries cooperate, if they connect with each other, and they trade with each other.

Well, countries don’t live in a vacuum or in isolation, and so there is a real synergy or benefit for all if countries cooperate, if they connect with each other, and they trade with each other. And that’s really the whole purpose of CAREC.

We are a club of 11 countries that have quite diverse geographies—many are landlocked; some have different resource allocations; some have energy, some don’t; some have the sea, some don’t. So, if there’s cooperation in the CAREC region there’s really benefits for all concerned.

Why is the CAREC program changing direction?

CAREC has done very well in its history, about 16 years of operation. We’ve really developed roads across the CAREC region, railways, we’ve got energy projects, we’ve got trade and trade facilitation work that we’ve been undertaking. About $30 billion has been invested in these areas, including more than $10 billion from ADB.

But we need to change with the times. We want to make CAREC better and respond to some of the new realities.

What is the biggest change with the new strategy?

The biggest change is that we are broadening some of the focal areas. We realize that economic conditions in the region and commodity prices have created new challenges for the countries. We’ve got other people and initiatives coming to work in the region, which we also need to look at. And also there are some broad international agendas like the sustainable development goals and COP21, climate change, and we’d like to try to integrate and address these in the new CAREC strategy.

What are CAREC’s priorities over the next 5 years?

First, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing, and more of it: Building roads and energy projects and focusing on trade. But we are also going to expand it. We are going to put macroeconomic and financial stability on the agenda of CAREC. We are also going to look at instead of just roads, we are going to do railways and aviation; clean energy instead of just energy.

ADB is committed to CAREC and to the new strategy. We are going to provide at least $1 billion a year for the next five years to CAREC.

We are also going to look at agricultural value chains, because agriculture has important potential in the region. We are going to look at human development activities, like education, skills, and health, and the regional aspects of those.

So we are going to gradually expand. We hope to attract more resources to CAREC and we want to try to make it more open to other development partners so they can all come and help in this cooperation.

And finally, knowledge is key. We’ve just recently inaugurated what’s called the CAREC Institute in Urumqi, People’s Republic of China, which is now an international organization set up to build capacity and do research and bring knowledge to our regional cooperation activities.

ADB is committed to CAREC and to the new strategy. And, in fact, we are going to provide at least $1 billion a year for the next five years to CAREC.