At the outset, I would like to convey our appreciation to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on assuming the Chairmanship of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries. Our gratitude also goes to Paraguay for its Chairmanship of our group during previous years, and its role in strengthening unity among our members.
The landlocked developing countries are commonly among the least developing countries. Sixteen of us, including my own country, are classified with the slowest growth and dependence on a very limited number of commodities for our export income. There is a clear connection between distance and transport costs. High transport costs affect the competitiveness margin of landlocked developing countries, and thereby affect trade volume.
Promoting regional cooperation for the benefit of the surrounding and landlocked countries manifests both challenges and opportunities. Some of the critical challenges which need attention cover geo-political position of Afghanistan and its neighbouring landlocked countries, security and stability of the region, drug trafficking, people smuggling, expensive and time consuming trade and transit because of barriers in trade, transport and transit, out-dated and restrictive trade and transit practices and policies, and infancy of financial markets.
On the other hand, regional cooperation provides opportunities to optimally utilize the resources of the region for the benefit of all the countries and will bring down all such barriers and create borders with human face. Despite the landlocked location of the countries, improved connectivity and development of infrastructure, particularly in the transport and energy sectors, would enhance the energy trade. Lowering of trade and transit costs and time among the land locked countries would enhance the pace of economic development; significantly increase incomes, employment and consumption in the region leading to reduction of incidence of poverty levels. Other areas of cooperation cover removal of barriers: in regional movement of labour; improvements in communication systems; civil aviation, human resources development; health facilities; and other areas of economic interests. Such efforts will be helpful in improving the productivity levels and services delivered to the masses in the countries of the region.
Afghanistan’s future – whether economically, politically, socially, or culturally – has and always will be deeply intertwined with its region’s future. Indeed, this is why we launched last November, with our regional and wider international partners, the “Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for Afghanistan”. And this is why with collaborated with the Government of Tajikistan earlier this year in organizing the Fifth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan. Building on the momentum generated the past twelve months in Istanbul and Dushanbe, as well as related meetings in Chicago, Kabul, and Tokyo, I firmly believe our deliberations today – with their emphasis on practical approaches for sustainable development and lessons from other regions undergoing similar transformations as in Central and South Asia – will be of immense benefit to the Government and People of Afghanistan, as well as our neighbours.
Promoting regional cooperation is a vital principle of cooperation in the Istanbul Heart of Asia Process. This is an emerging policy platform for advancing regional economic and other cooperation priorities among its participating states. Launched on 2 November 2011, the “Istanbul Process” introduces 43 confidence-building measures (CBMs) to enhance stability and regional cooperation between Afghanistan and 15 participating countries, with the support of 12 other country partners and 9 international organizations. Within the participating countries, 5 are Landlocked Developing Countries. Among the group of 43 CBMs, no less than 21 are of an economic nature (for example, trade, transport infrastructure, energy, water management, agriculture, and private investment) and 7 deal with regional cooperation in the area of education. For each of these priority CBMs, an Implementation Framework elaborates on the on-going work undertaken by a range of Afghan Government multilateral and bilateral partners.
Local trade between Afghanistan and neighbours is very important, even if long distance trade transiting through Afghanistan and neighbours takes longer to develop. Improved transportation links via the development of road corridors to the south and energy exports from landlocked Central Asian countries to the South Asia via Afghanistan would offer alternative means of trade flows and benefit the entire region.
As an over-arching, strategic goal for our regional cooperation projects, a broad-based effort to develop Regional Economic Growth and Resource Corridors can help connect – through Afghanistan – the people of landlocked Central Asia, South, and South-West Asia and their key economic activities, including agriculture, light manufacturing, and mineral extraction, with essential trade, transit, and energy enablers. And in doing so, the technical innovation and capital of the private sector will be unleashed, displacing over time both foreign aid and public sector capital investments. By generating significant returns to growth, jobs, and revenue, Regional Economic Growth and Resource Corridors have the potential to serve as “game changers” and to create a new dynamic for peace and socioeconomic progress across the region.
Unlocking the full potential of Afghanistan’s primary vehicles for economic expansion, employment, and public revenue are the keys to durable stability and financial sustainability across the country. Investment in Aynak and Hajigak mines require investment in a rail system to efficiently move copper and iron ore to rail links in Central Asia and the ports of South Asia. Exports of Afghanistan’s world class marble, gemstones, grapes, raisins, almonds, saffron, and pomegranates can only grow through a more favorable regional and global investment. Small and medium-size enterprise owners – for example, involved in the production of rugs, wool, cashmere, and handicrafts – repeatedly stress the importance of reliable energy resources, alongside the rule of law, as essential to their competitiveness. And with adequate transportation and energy infrastructure, Afghanistan’s central location at the crossroads of Asia means it is poised to serve as a regional trade and transport hub, generating considerable public revenue through transit fees.
Afghanistan fully supports the commitment of the landlocked countries to accelerate the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action through effective and genuine partnerships between landlocked and transit countries and their development partners, as well as between the public and private sectors at national, regional and global levels.
In conclusion, I reiterate our commitment to work closely with all of you to advance our common interests.
I thank you.