URUMQI, PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA - Ministers from eight Central Asian and neighboring countries today adopted a Comprehensive Action Plan to strengthen the momentum and increase the benefits of regional cooperation.

Applauding the growing momentum in regional cooperation and integration among countries participating in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program, Ministers noted the program plays an increasingly important role in accelerating the process of economic integration together with other regional organizations.

"The CAREC Comprehensive Action Plan we endorsed today will propel regional cooperation forward in new and inspiring ways, contributing to the realization of our long-term vision of 'Good Neighbors, Good Partners, and Good Prospects'," said the Urumqi Declaration issued at the conclusion of the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation.

The Ministerial Conference brought 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 (MIs), and bilateral and other regional organizations.

Ministers welcomed the more than doubling in financial and technical support for the CAREC Program by the MI partners to about $2.3 billion for three years starting in 2006. The MIs include ADB, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Monetary Fund, Islamic Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, and World Bank.

In a keynote address to the Ministerial Conference, ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda underlined the importance of maximizing clear results on the ground. "This year's conference is about putting the CAREC vision, which you have worked so hard to define, into action," he said. "It is about launching a new era of cooperation among the countries of Central Asia and their neighbors."

Mr. Kuroda pointed to a real and growing demand for improved connections between Europe and Asia with the rapid economic expansion of the PRC and Japan to the East, Russia to the North, and India and Pakistan to the South. "The momentum provides the region with an unprecedented opportunity to emerge as a center for trade and commerce, to achieve higher levels of economic growth, and to lift the burden of poverty from the shoulders of its people," he said.

Ministers agreed to broaden and deepen the CAREC Program by adding special initiatives in new sectors such as human development, environment, agriculture, and tourism to the current priority areas: transport, trade, and energy. The Program will take additional policy initiatives and approaches to regional cooperation such as capacity building, knowledge transfers, and the creation of economic corridors to integrate the region through not only networks of transport and other infrastructure but also networks of economic activities.

Ministers called on the multilateral partners to coordinate their regional cooperation initiatives to be consistent with the Action Plan and in a manner that avoids duplication and maximizes efficient use of resources.

The Urumqi Declaration also stated that CAREC countries will undertake to highlight regional cooperation initiatives in their respective development plans and public investment programs.

The Action Plan provides a clear mission and concrete goals for CAREC participants' efforts in the coming years. The Declaration outlines four key pillars of the Action Plan as follows:

  • Regional infrastructure networks will mainstream support by countries and MIs for transport corridors, energy markets, and trade-related infrastructure projects into the strategies of CAREC countries and MI partners. Connectivity is a prominent theme of the plan, reflecting countries' desire to reinforce the region's strategic role as a land link for Europe and Asia.
  • Knowledge and capacity building will combine the research strengths of countries and MI partners, greatly increasing ability to conduct policy dialogue and design and undertake mutually-beneficial regional initiatives. To coordinate the research, training and dialogue activities, Ministers endorse the formation of a CAREC Institute, with advisory guidance by eminent persons.
  • Trade, investment and business development will provide an integrated framework for improving the investment climate in Central Asia, and linking business enterprises to regional and global markets. The CAREC Business Development Forum will help broaden the inclusiveness of, and strengthen support for, the CAREC Program.
  • Regional public goods will expand the program on a project-specific basis to address transboundary issues such as protection of the environment, management of natural resources, and actions in preparation against natural disasters and to control the spread of communicable diseases.

The CAREC Program was initiated in 1997 with ADB support. Given the landlocked location, small size, and distance from major world markets of most of the participating CAREC countries, 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.

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