The United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) was established on 26 March 1998 by the Tashkent Declaration signed by the Presidents of the Central Asian countries and the Executive Secretaries of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) as a United Nations special programme to support the countries in their efforts for economic development, cooperation and integration into the economies of Europe and Asia. The current SPECA participating countries are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. UNECE and ESCAP jointly provide overall support to the activities within the framework of the Programme, in close collaboration with the UN Resident Coordinators in the SPECA participating States. SPECA provides a regional collaboration platform for the implementation of those Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that can be achieved better through regional cooperation. In 2023, Azerbaijan is chairing the Programme and hosts the SPECA Week in Baku from 20 to 24 November 2023.
This Forum builds on the active position of Azerbaijan and the other SPECA participating countries to make SPECA a service-oriented, flexible, and strategic platform for policy coordination and cooperation to foster dialogue, consolidation of positions, solving common problems, elaboration of strategies and work plans for their implementation. This Forum reflects the overall theme of the Azerbaijani Chairmanship of SPECA in 2023 “Transforming the SPECA region into a connectivity hub with global outreach”. It also builds on the achievements during the last years in positioning the SPECA region as connectivity hub at the geographic heart of the Eurasian landmass: namely, the results of the 2019 SPECA Economic Forum “Connectivity: Sustainable Transport and Trade Facilitation in the SPECA Subregion”, which issued the Ashgabat Initiative on enhancing connectivity using the UN norms, standards, and tools, as well as the 2021 Forum, which prepared the “Tashkent Statement on Sustainable Transport, Trade and Connectivity in the SPECA Region for a Greener, Circular and Inclusive Post-Pandemic Recovery”.
The 2023 SPECA Economic Forum focuses on the increased significance of connectivity, in the face of new challenges, in the Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor (Middle Corridor) between Europe and China. It highlights the potential contribution of the digital transformation of data and document exchange along this trade and transport route to making the economies of the region greener, circular, and inclusive. The choice of topic reflects priority issues for the region today: the crises of the 21st century caused serious disruptions of supply chains, adding cost to logistics operations in a region already burdened with the problems of being land locked. The business community in landlocked developing countries (LLDC) pays more than double what coastal countries do to export their goods, while these and high trade costs erode the competitiveness of the LLDCs resulting in an enormous negative impact on their overall sustainable development. The sessions on digital transformation of supply chain information flows along the Middle Corridor and transport connectivity for more efficient Euro-Asian transport links focus on the digitalization of multimodal data and document exchange along the Middle Corridor to support exchange of electronic freight transport data from economic operators in line with relevant United Nations legal instruments and standards, including the UN/CEFACT package of standards for multimodal data exchange. The objective is to make data interoperable between sectors in the supply chain and the relevant modes of transport along the Middle Corridor, with a view to increasing the efficiency of data exchange and the movement of goods across borders.
The regional energy system in Central Asia contains huge untapped potential and, together with partners in the region, SPECA participating States are working to diversity energy transit routes and sources to global markets. In the meantime, participating States are also developing their infrastructure for integration of large-scale energy generation capacity and enhancing regional energy connectivity and energy trade through cooperation to improve the resiliency of the energy system and the energy security in Central Asia. An integrated and interconnected energy system, which encompasses the electricity and gas grid and enables the transport and trade of low-carbon and green hydrogen, can help create a more reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy supply. It will allow for deep decarbonization as well as increased and more effective integration of scaled renewable energy capacity into the energy system. This all is expected to positively contribute to the sustainable development of the economy, generate new jobs and improve gender equality.
This Forum is planned as an expert-level meeting providing opportunities to inform and exchange views through panel discussions, formulating new ideas and initiatives on issues related to trade, transport, digitalization, and energy in the SPECA region. As a result of the Forum, participants will help prepare a set of conclusions and expert level recommendations on how to transform the SPECA region into a well-connected and sustainable hub for trade and transport with global outreach, while achieving relevant SDGs. The final session of the Forum will feature academic and research institutions for a discussion on strategic foresight perspective for SPECA, with a long-term for harnessing international cooperation to consolidate economic cooperation and integration for the next 25 years.
 The Ashgabat Initiative was the outcome document from the 2019 SPECA Economic Forum that fostered connectivity, trade and transport facilitation: https://unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/SPECA/documents/gc/session14/IV._AHGABAT_INITIATIVE_English.pdf and in Russian: https://unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/SPECA/documents/gc/session14/IV._AHGABAT_INITIATIVE_Russian.pdf