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Development Account Projects

Strengthening the connectivity of countries in South and Central Asia, particularly landlocked and least developed countries, with a view to linking with subregional and regional transport and trade networks

Background:

The geographically contiguous regions of South and Central Asia comprise a number of landlocked and least developed countries, natural resource rich countries and some of the fastest growing economies with highly complementary economic structures. Yet intraregional trade within and between these regions is impeded by higher costs than those applicable to their trade with the European Union, owing largely to poorly developed transport links that do not allow them to benefit from geographical proximity.

Connectivity within and between the South and Central Asian subregions remains inadequate because of poor infrastructure conditions, missing links and the lack of transit agreements and transport facilitation. A number of overlapping groupings for regional cooperation have been established in the two subregions, namely, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), in addition to the Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programmes. Each of these groupings has proposed its own subregional transport corridors for the promotion of connectivity across their member States. Recent analysis by ESCAP has shown that the countries in the region could reap greater network externalities by integrating the subregional transport corridors.

Against that backdrop, this project seeks to contribute to the capacities of the countries of the two subregions in order to strengthen their connectivity through an innovative approach that encompasses (a) linking the existing and proposed subregional road and railway networks along the Asian Highway and trans-Asian railway routes and Euro-Asian Transport Linkages (EATL) corridors based on minimal investments, and (b) facilitating the movement of goods along these corridors in a mutually beneficial manner especially for the benefit of the landlocked and least developed countries in these subregions. Furthermore, in order to maximize the economic benefits of improved connectivity, the project will explore the possibilities for facilitating trade and investment through the creation of economic corridors at the border crossings that could be of particular interest to countries emerging from conflict, such as Afghanistan, that are seeking to rebuild their economies through improved connectivity with the region’s emerging markets, which could provide important economic gains and help in restoring peace and stability.

The project will contribute to the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries and the Almaty Programme of Action, which are heavily emphasized in the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Furthermore, it responds to numerous calls made by the States members of ESCAP and ECE in the subregions of South, South-West and Central Asia for a greater focus on capacity-building activities for Member States to improve connectivity between landlocked least developed countries and their subregional and regional partners.

The project will build upon and leverage the tangible outcomes from existing ESCAP and ECE work in transport and trade facilitation. ESCAP has developed the Asian Highway and trans-Asian railway route maps, and has facilitated international agreements based on them. It is currently working on an international agreement on dry ports for facilitating intermodal transport. ECE has been managing the EATL project, has facilitated inland transport conventions and agreements, including those on Euro-Asian transport, and has undertaken studies on, inter alia, the relevance and relative costs of different transport corridors and hinterland connections to maritime ports. The project will also build upon important transport and trade facilitation tools developed jointly by ECE and ESCAP, including the guides and training materials for business process analysis, simplification and automation of trade and transport documents.

Objective:

To strengthen the capacities of Member States in South, South-West and Central Asia, in particular least developed countries and landlocked countries, to plan and implement measures to enhance intraregional and interregional connectivity, and to harness their economic potential for inclusive and sustainable development

Expected accomplishments:

  • Enhanced awareness of government officials, regional groupings and financial institutions about the possible connectivity options and their economic and social benefits, including existing interregional trade opportunities
  • Increased skills of government officials, regional groupings and financial institutions to develop and implement measures to enhance connectivity in the region through the application of standards and best practices for trade and transport facilitation at the border crossings and along the main economic corridors identified

Implementation status:

In progress.