Singapore, Nov 4 (UNI) Eight countries yesterday agreed to an 18.7 billion dollar strategy to improve Central Asia's network of roads, airports, railway lines and seaports to make the region a vital transit route for trade between Europe and Asia- a modern-day equivalent of the ancient Silk Road.
The plan was agreed at a meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan attended by Ministers from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and supported by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) and five other multilateral institutions.
''Central Asia is becoming a pivotal region in Eurasia, a vital land-bridge linking Europe, Russia, China, South Asia, and the West Asia,'' the Ministers said in a joint declaration at the end of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program.
The strategy will establish competitive transport corridors across the CAREC region, facilitate movement of people and goods across borders, and develop safe, dependable, effective, efficient, and fully integrated transport systems that are environmentally sustainable, the statement issued by ADB said.
Even though Central Asia lies at the center of the Eurasian continent, less than one percent of all trade between Europe and Asia currently goes through the region.
Inadequate transport infrastructure and cumbersome border processes have resulted in nearly all trade going by sea.
The plan calls for 18.7 billion dollar investment over the next decade in six new transport corridors, mainly roads and rail links.
About half of the funds are likely to come from multilateral organisations like ADB, while the rest will come from the countries themselves.
''This is a large and ambitious strategy. It encompasses dozens of projects and will require more than 18 billion dollars in investments over the next decade,'' ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said in a speech at the conference.
The active implementation of this strategy has the potential to transform the region's economic prospects and the lives of its people, he added.
The plan also calls for the improvement of border crossings to speed trade flows. Customs and immigration procedures are currently bottlenecks for trade in the region.
Historically, Central Asia was braided by multiple routes linking east and west, known as the Silk Road and dating back more than 2,000 years. It was an important economic artery that stretched more than 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles), from the Mediterranean to China's Yellow River Valley.
The proposed new transport corridors do not follow the exact routes taken by the Silk Road and will not only be orientated east-west, but also north-south, connecting the Central Asian Republics, Russia and China with South Asia and the Gulf.
Titled the Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy, the plan was proposed by the CAREC Program, which is an ADB-supported initiative to encourage economic cooperation in Central Asia and was established in 1997.
''Creation of safe and reliable transport corridors, together with measures on simplified trade relations as indicated in the CAREC Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy, will provide an opportunity to improve the general investment climate and to increase the rate of economic development of the region,'' Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said in his speech at the conference.
At the meeting, the Ministers also agreed to a shared vision for their region for the next decade. It included the aspiration that by 2018 all countries will be members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
''Our shared objectives are to significantly increase official trade among CAREC countries as well as with non-CAREC countries and to facilitate and improve the quality of transit trade so as to better integrate with global markets and foreign investors,'' the statement said.
The vision also says that by 2018, governments aim to fulfill Central Asia's potential as an energy hub, to ensure no community is without reliable and affordable electricity.