The CAREC region must strengthen digital connectivity and the use of digital technologies, so that regional and global initiatives can expand their reach, said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa in his keynote address, welcoming the 19th Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Ministerial Conference on 7 December 2020.
“There is also huge potential for adopting technologies that improve the monitoring of cross-border health threats; enable the use of telemedicine and online education; and raise food safety standards. To maximize the value of these advances, we will also work together to address the digital divide and strengthen cyber security”, he stressed.
In this connection, CAREC is starting a technical assistance program that will help integrate technology and develop startup ecosystems that offer digital solutions for regional challenges.
“The second area involves the role of the private sector as a driver of innovation, which can further accelerate regional cooperation. A CAREC Regional Infrastructure Projects Enabling Facility is being prepared to attract private participation and innovative financing solutions for regional infrastructure projects”, Asakawa urged.
Full text of address by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the 19th Ministerial Conference of Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation, 7 December 2020 is here: https://www.adb.org/news/speeches/19th-ministerial-conference-central-asia-regional-economic-cooperation-masatsugu
The virtual event, under the theme “People-Centered Regional Cooperation in the Post-COVID Environment,” was attended by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, ministers and senior officials representing Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People’s Republic of China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as representatives from development partners. The event was hosted by the Government of Afghanistan. Finance Minister of Afghanistan Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal chaired the meeting and ADB Vice-President Shixin Chen co-chaired.
“Regional connectivity is one of the top priorities of our economic development agenda,” said Mr. Ghani in his special address. “The CAREC platform can help us fully integrate the infrastructure, systems, and programs, and share our common cultural values. The CAREC Program is a proactive facilitator of practical, results-based regional projects and policy initiatives critical to sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity in the region.”
In a joint statement, the ministers commended CAREC’s efforts to address the challenges posed by the pandemic and reaffirmed their commitment to regional cooperation and support for CAREC’s Strategy 2030. The ministers noted substantial progress in CAREC’s five priority areas, welcomed the forthcoming digital strategy to integrate information and communication technology into each priority area, and highlighted the continued financial and technical support of development partners.
CAREC – Key achievements in 2020
- Investments in high-quality infrastructure projects have strengthened regional connectivity. For example, a new project will expand energy trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to provide 500,000 households and businesses with reliable access to electricity. Another cross-border investment project will forge connectivity between China and Mongolia, to enhance living conditions for people in border areas through improved access to economic opportunities and health services.
- CAREC has adopted tourism strategy, which will promote the development of safe tourism destinations, helping to support employment for millions of people.
- CAREC gender strategy, approved by the 19th ministerial conference will support equal access to economic opportunities for women and girls, and give them a voice in decision-making processes.
- In coordination with the CAREC Institute, CAREC is raising its role as a catalyst for knowledge work and policy dialogue in further support of regional and global agendas for cooperation. For example, CAREC completed a study on regional health cooperation, identifying opportunities to mitigate the spread of diseases and to improve health services for migrants and border communities. To advance policy dialogue, senior finance ministry officials from CAREC countries recently participated in an ADB-IMF-World Bank forum to discuss countercyclical fiscal policy measures to mitigate COVID-19.
New CAREC Gender Strategy to Promote Women’s Empowerment
Ministers and senior officials from the 11 member countries of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program have endorsed the CAREC Gender Strategy 2030, aimed at promoting women’s empowerment by ensuring regional projects address women’s needs and provide equal access to benefits and opportunities.
“There is a critical need for additional efforts to include women’s voices at all stages of planning and implementation in regional projects,” said Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President Shixin Chen, co-chair of the conference. “Gender equality is essential for sustainable development and the gender strategy promotes the empowerment of women by ensuring access to capacity building, economic opportunities, and involvement in decision making.”
CAREC countries face several common challenges to improving the lives of women. There is a systemic gender gap in labor force participation, with disparities in employment rates, pay scales, and quality of employment. In many countries, female entrepreneurship is undermined by a lack of finance for start-ups and expansion because of women’s limited ownership of assets to leverage credit, while the proportion of women in senior management positions remains low.
Women are also often among the most affected by external shocks such as drought or flooding linked to climate change; food and oil price fluctuations; and global pandemics because of their disproportionate exposure to risk and primary care responsibilities.
CAREC’s gender strategy outlines how the program’s operations will supplement national strategies to empower women. This includes promoting economic opportunities for women in paid formal employment, in agriculture and informal sectors, and in entrepreneurship, among others.
The strategy articulates how CAREC interventions will account for the specific needs and concerns of women and girls through projects’ consultative processes. It also aims to ensure women have equal access to quality education, healthcare services, and information and communication technology.
“ADB identifies gender equality as both a critical end goal and a key driver of sustainable socioeconomic development,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Werner Liepach. “The gender strategy endorsed today is a step towards closing the gender equality gap that creates disadvantage, limits opportunities, and undermines well-being for women and other vulnerable groups in all CAREC countries, and will help to ensure that CAREC interventions leave no one behind.”
All CAREC countries have committed to the Sustainable Development Goals and to key international gender equality agreements, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The CAREC gender strategy commits to support policy reforms that will address existing gender disparities.
The CAREC Tourism Strategy 2030 is another key instrument adopted by the 19th CAREC Ministerial Conference.
“The CAREC region is home to a wide range of historical and cultural heritage sites; unique gastronomy and local traditions; a rich, unexplored network of cities; and arresting natural endowments that traverse national boundaries,” said Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President Shixin Chen, co-chair of the conference.
“Through the gradual implementation of regional initiatives, the CAREC Tourism Strategy 2030 will help the region bounce back from COVID-19 and establish itself as a sustainable, safe, and easily accessible tourism destination over the long term”, he added.
In 2019, CAREC countries generated more than 420 million domestic tourists but only received 41 million foreign tourists. With the COVID-19 pandemic severely affecting global tourism in 2020, the CAREC Tourism Strategy 2030 accounts for the shift in travelers’ preference towards closer, safer, and uncrowded destinations while outlining a long-term plan to develop the region as an easily accessible tourism destination that provides visitors with a variety of unique experiences.
The strategy provides a roadmap towards the enhancement of the region’s connectivity through the harmonization of visa requirements and quality standards, simplification of border crossing procedures, and improvement of tourism infrastructure and facilities. It also focuses on tourism skills development while maximizing the use of digital technologies.
It aims to build a common brand, “Visit Silk Road”, through the creation of a CAREC tourism web portal and joint promotional activities for tour operators and other business providers. It seeks to develop unique tourism products and experiences catering to various segments including business, culture, nature and adventure, sun and beach holidays, health and wellness, and domestic weekenders.
“By fostering sustainable tourism growth in rural and urban areas, the new strategy will also help to reduce regional imbalances and empower local communities,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Werner Liepach. “It will promote gender equality by promoting jobs and income opportunities for private sector SMEs and entrepreneurs including women and young people.”
Since its founding in 2001, CAREC has funded 208 regional infrastructure and trade projects worth $39.2 billion. Of the total, $14.7 billion has been financed by ADB, $15.8 billion by other development partners, and $8.7 billion by CAREC member governments. Projects have contributed to increasing road and railway efficiency, streamlining border-crossings, and improving access to energy for millions of people in the region.///nCa, 8 December 2020 (based on ADB press releases)