The 22nd Session of the Council of Ministers of the Economic Cooperation Organization

Delivered at Serena Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan

Your Excellencies, Ministers of the ECO member states,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

ECO has been a long standing partner in development for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, or ESCAP. All ECO members are also ESCAP members and are engaged in broader policy and normative debates of regional cooperation and integration.

The combination of strategic geography, shared vision and abundant natural resources offer ECO enormous potential to leverage regional integration. To harness this potential it is important to emphasise the following areas.

First, a shared recognition needs to be developed that regional cooperation and integration has the potential to leverage sustainable development and growth, provided the infrastructure is aligned to support sustainability and resilience.

Second, the future economic and social integration of the subregion depends on how economic corridors can be enhanced by creating regional production and value chains, as well as new industries to revitalise economies and their trade with supportive diversification and job generation, while offering landlocked countries access to the sea.

Third, to enhance prospects for fuller integration of ECO, regional seamless connectivity is critical. It calls for, in the first round, the development of missing transport links, estimated at over 1300 kilometres and costing some $5.15 billion.

Fourth, linked to this, is concern on the low level of intra-regional trade within Central Asia, estimated to be less than 6 per cent of the total. Unlocking the full potential of ECO’s members will require more aggressive trade and investment agreements and supportive facilitation mechanisms and windows. ECO members at this point have more conducive agreements with non-ECO members than with their regional bloc partners.

Finally, ECO subregion needs to be recognized for its progress in energy cooperation as the cross-border CASA-1000 powerline and the TAPI gas pipeline projects are now underway. This infrastructure, in addition to meeting the energy needs of industry, will enhance energy access in populous South Asian countries, while playing a much-needed role in reducing emissions and enhancing energy security. The flourishing bilateral agreements for electricity trade made recently between many ECO members augurs well for the longer term vision of an ECO subregional electricity market.

As part of ESCAP’s vision for a dynamic, prosperous and sustainable Asia-Pacific, debates on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration, or RECI, focus on fostering economic cooperation through the formation of an integrated market; development of seamless connectivity; enhancing financial cooperation; and addressing shared vulnerabilities and risks.

RECI is a process that can drive trade facilitation including through electronic paperless trade and through investments and innovation that will capitalize on ECO’s strategic location as a hub between three predominant global markets – East Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Through investments in modernization and linking of infrastructure for seamless connectivity across the region, and combined with supportive enabling policies, RECI can open up opportunities for private sector involvement in areas such as infrastructure development; economic diversification and export competitiveness; and implementation of the Master Plan for the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway to enhance digital connectivity. Progress in these areas will promote shared prosperity and can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the transboundary goals.

Regional cooperation across Asia and the Pacific will receive further impetus from the Belt and Road and the Eurasian initiatives. However both these initiatives need to be well coordinated to develop further interlinkages and foster industrial development. Three of the six economic corridors proposed under the Belt and Road Initiative pass through the ECO subregion to connect Asia with Europe.

A comprehensive dialogue, addressing both traditional and newer drivers of RECI, will take place in Bangkok this April at the Asia-Pacific regional conference on RECI where our member States will deliberate the priorities and next steps needed to fast track regional integration. The deployment of a revitalized partnership with ECO is an important building block towards the achievement of this common endeavour.

To conclude, I encourage ECO to leverage ESCAP’s multi-sectoral agreements, our policy work and experiences gained in more advanced subregional integration models. We welcome you or your fellow ministers to ESCAP’s upcoming Asia-Pacific inter-governmental meetings and the annual commission session convened in May that will also mark the 70th anniversary of ESCAP. The possibilities afforded by regional cooperation in the Asia-Pacific are tremendous and offer an important way forward to address some of the complications stemming from recent reversals in globalisation.

I look forward to ESCAP and ECO continuing to work together in pursuit of our shared goals.

I thank you.