Central Asia faces numerous security, economic and environmental challenges in the new global situation. It becomes evident that all countries in the region need regional cooperation in order to face these challenges and secure sustainable development. This is why the participating countries in the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) decided that this Programme will provide an intergovernmental platform for cooperation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and targets which necessitate regional cooperation. The Declaration of the 2016 Economic Forum and the 11th session of the Governing Council of SPECA, which were hosted by Azerbaijan in the city of Ganja from 22 until 23 November 2016, sealed this decision.
Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of UNECE, noted in his opening statement at the Forum that in its almost 20 years of existence SPECA “has been guided by a strong vision to bring the region together”, but it has also faced a political reality that was not always easy. To tackle a multitude of economic and environmental challenges, such as the drying out of the Aral Sea, the region needs more cooperation and economic integration. There is even more reason to do this now, when there is a common goal – the realization of Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development.
Sahil Babayev, Deputy Minister of Economy of Azerbaijan, noted that his country highly appreciated the activities of SPECA and worked on widening cooperation with the SPECA countries. The events in Ganja were intended to have an utmost impact on cooperation for achieving SPECA’s objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals in the region. During the first nine months of 2016, trade between Azerbaijan and the other SPECA countries reached $280.6 million and Azerbaijan directed more than $200 million in investments to SPECA countries. Yet these relations have to be expanded. Mutual trade and economic relations still represent an untapped potential for the development of the SPECA countries.
Various regional programmes and organizations are active in Central Asia, yet SPECA is the only forum bringing together only the countries of the subregion to exchange experiences, build a common vision, and look for common solutions. The Ganja Declaration, adopted on 23 November, stipulates that SPECA can provide the intergovernmental cooperative framework to achieve the SDGs in several key areas, including water management, the rational use of the region’s energy wealth, sustainable transport, trade, knowledge based development, innovation, gender equality and strengthening statistical capacity for monitoring progress.
The participants stressed that in the new, challenging situation in the world, SPECA needs to reposition itself as an important policy forum for cooperation. They noted with satisfaction the reinvigorated activities of the SPECA thematic Working Groups in 2016. Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP, listed some policy priority areas for this repositioning: revive and rebalance economic growth in the subregion in order to achieve more equality, inclusion and social justice; enhance subregional infrastructure connectivity to support trade and investment competitiveness; invest in people; and build more collective resilience in the face of environmental vulnerabilities.