URUMCHI (TCA) — The first Business Development Forum (BDF), jointly organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the All China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACF-IC), in cooperation with the Chinese Government, took place in Urumchi on October 16 and 17.
By Giorgio Fiacconi TCA Publisher
The conference, under the umbrella of CAREC (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation), was a continuation of the business round table held in Bishkek in November 2005 and aimed at building stronger partnerships in various sectors between the Central Asian states and China
Political will, legislation needed
There is no doubt that regional cooperation is the key to overcome the many barriers facing the region’s development and a broader vision of economic development is necessary, but such an objective can only be achieved with strong political wills and significant cooperation between the private and public sectors, which so far is lacking.
Although in the past CAREC has emphasized infra-structure cooperation, mobilizing a considerable amount of resources, the implementation of reforms and the development of appropriate cross border investment policies are still lacking. The participants in the forum have clearly identified the many barriers which still need to be addressed in the financial, energy, tourism, agribusiness and mining sectors. All pointed to the lack of adequate and consistent legislation. If multilateral financial institutions can provide substantial support, the various governments and private sectors should be capable of driving vital development.
The demand to undertake initiatives to eliminate barriers and to develop more consistent policies and transparent procedures comes from different sectors and countries. The forum highlighted this message and will submit a list of recommendations to the Ministerial Conference of the Central Asian states, set to take place presently in Urumchi.
In discussions with numerous participants it becomes clear that in general there is overall dissatisfaction with the various countries’ approach to regional cooperation. Although all agree on its importance, it seems discussion currently takes priority over implementation. For this reason, the Forum also recommended the creation in each country of a CAREC office to coordinate regional projects and maintain a close link with other countries.
One important aspect of the Urumchi Business Development Forum was the clear commitment of the Chinese Government to the development of an open business environment and support of Central Asia cooperation. In this new scenario, there is no doubt that the Xinjiang province can play an important role in Chinese policy.
Today, Xinjiang is mainly a transit point to Central Asia for goods coming from the southeast and coastal regions of China, but it is becoming a major trading partner not only of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but also of Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
Cooperation for sustainable development
During the Forum, meetings and presentations took place on five key sectors: Energy, Tourism, Mining, Agri-business, and Finance. The exchange of ideas and information is critical for the development of regional cooperation and for sustainable economic growth. Great achievements in the public and private sectors of the region are possible only through cooperating and by maintaining close links with multilateral financial organizations and various foreign governments.
The conference also touched the regional problems of corruption and illicit trade which penalize and de-lay economic activity. The lack of political will in changing the situation brings best efforts to nothing, as everyone is claiming to fight corruption but in practical terms does very little. Attention was also given to the lack of knowledge and the need to adopt transparent and consistent legislation in various countries in order to facilitate the implementation of cross border projects.
For any of the key sectors identified by the Business Forum, a set of recommendations has been pre-pared. Even if only few are adopted by the Ministerial Conference, it will represent a good step forward towards regional cooperation. Building a proper partnership across Central Asia is going to take time, but certainly this is the proper course towards sustainable development and the reduction of poverty, and it must be kept constantly on the agenda of the regions’ governments.