Opening remarks by Shixin Chen. ADB Vice President (Operations 1) at the CAREC - Regional Cooperation in the Time of COVID-19: Lessons Learned and Way Forward session, 17 September 2020

Honorable ministers; Heads of delegations; Distinguished guests; Ladies and gentlemen.

A very good day to all of us. I am pleased to be part of this very timely discussion.

The year 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program. Over the past two decades, CAREC’s membership has been expanded to 11 countries. Working together with development partners, CAREC promotes progress through cooperation, resource mobilization, knowledge sharing, driving accelerated economic growth and poverty reduction. 

At the same time, 2020 has been the most challenging year for the region. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has manifested as the worst pandemic in a century and poses an unprecedented threat to both public health and the regional economy. The impact is being felt strongly across developing Asia, with a sharply reduced growth forecast of merely 0.1% in 2020. We could see as many as 56 million people falling back into extreme poverty. In the CAREC region, excluding PRC, we expect economic activity to contract by 1.3% due to trade and travel disruptions, low oil prices, and loss of remittances.  

To help governments cope with the impacts of the pandemic, ADB launched a $20 billion pandemic response package, and approved around $2.8 billion in immediate assistance to the CAREC region to help contain the spread of the pandemic, deliver economic stimulus, ensure social protection, and support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). 

Moving forward, given the magnitude of the impacts caused by the pandemic, now is the time when we need regional cooperation more than ever. We believe the stronger solidarity and collective actions are core for us to conquer the crisis. Let me share with you four thoughts in terms of CAREC regional cooperation in the future. 

First, to build a more resilient regional public health system.  There are many areas that could be further improved. For instance, strengthening regional integrated disease surveillance networks, establishing coordinated mechanisms to slow the spread of viruses across borders; harmonizing health protocols and standards among countries; and exploring pooled procurement mechanisms for vaccines.

Second, to support regional economic revitalization. We think regional cooperation can be of great help in overcoming the barriers in regional connectivity, climate change, women’s participation in the labor force, cross-border trade and tourism, FDI and remittance inflows, as well as digitalization.  

Third, to facilitate policy coordination and knowledge sharing.  To address common health diseases, cross-border economic enhancement, regional policy coordination, and to share experience and lessons, we believe that working together by taking joint actions can make a big difference. 

Fourth, to explore the potential of inter-regional cooperation. The wide spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated the necessity of our cooperation to go beyond the subregions. CAREC, the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Program (SASEC) must be further integrated to amplify the synergy of regional cooperation. 
To this end, I’d like to highly commend the high-level participation in today’s meeting. I trust the know-how for coping with COVID-19 will be shared in this meeting. Special thanks to Professor Peter Frankopan, the great writer of the fantastic book:  The New Silk Roads, which helps us to grasp the historic value of regional cooperation and reflects on the spirit for the future. I also hope today’s discussion will add momentum to our upcoming CAREC ministerial conference for further strategic discussion.

Thank you.