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SPECA: Central Asia reaffirms its key role in international transport [VIDEO]

2 December 2023 15:36 (UTC+04:00)
SPECA: Central Asia reaffirms its key role in international transport [VIDEO]

Euronews Business News Agency published an analysis on the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) that took place in Baku during the last week of SPECA, Azernews reports.

SPECA: Central Asia reaffirms its key role in international transport

In Baku, during SPECA week, the United Nations programme for Central Asian countries, the Member States signed new agreements to develop better international connections between Asia and Europe.

Baku welcomed participants to SPECA week, a special UN programme designed for the countries of Central Asia. This year marks the programme's 25th anniversary and was the first time that a summit of leaders from SPECA states was organised.

The main topic focused on transforming the region into a connectivity hub with global outreach. Sustainable transport, trade and energy are among the key areas for SPECA, which was established in 1998 to facilitate integration of these countries into the global economy and to become a platform for cooperation aimed at achieving UN Sustainable Development goals.

Azerbaijan-Central Asia relations at 'record high'

SPECA unites five Central Asian countries, along with Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan and two UN agencies. The summit supported the creation of the SPECA Multi Partner Trust Fund under the auspices of the UN.

Azerbaijan, which is the chair of SPECA this year, will provide $3.5 million to this Fund.

"This programme is based on economic relations between Central Asia and Azerbaijan; today we see the new dimension of that interaction," said Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

"During the last two years, interaction between Azerbaijan and all Central Asian countries, and also among Central Asian countries, is at a record high. So this is a new reality and we need to capitalise on that.

"We have excellent relations with all SPECA states. We have a lot of investment projects now: Azerbaijan invests in Central Asia, and Central Asian invests in Azerbaijan. We have projects such as the East-West Trans-Caspian Route, which is one the most attractive transport routes for Central Asia – connecting to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and then on to Europe through integrated connectivity projects. We see a lot of positive dynamics on the political track."

A connectivity hub: Boosting the region's economic potential

The Baku Declaration adopted at the summit emphasised a strong political willingness to jointly capitalise on the region’s vast economic potential.

"The analysis shows the opportunity to increase the mutual trade turnover of our countries from the current $52 billion to $100 billion by 2030," said the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

The SPECA Economic Forum, which took place ahead of the summit, discussed how the region can become a connectivity hub between Europe and Asia.

"It’s the most important platform that brings together one of the world’s biggest regions of landlocked countries," explained Samad Bashirli, Azerbaijan's Deputy Minister of Economy and Co-Chair of SPECA Economic Forum.

"As landlocked countries we have to cooperate and increase our transport cooperation, which in turn will facilitate our trade and increase our integration into the world economy," he added.

Improving the logistics capacity and performance index of trade corridors is crucial for the SPECA landlocked countries.

"We see a big role for digital solutions, in making sure that goods can pass through the corridor between Europe and Asia much faster," said Dmitry Mariyasin, the Deputy Executive Secretary at UNECE and fellow Co-Chair of SPECA Economic Forum.

"It is about adopting UN norms and standards in how member states clear customs, how freight documentation is exchanged. It is about making sure that the different parts of the ecosystem, the traders, the customs authorities and government officials can use similar approaches, and can literally use one language; and this is what we are focusing on from the UN side."

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The Trans-Caspian International Transport Route

The Trans-Caspian International Transport Route took centre stage at the forum. This multilateral, multimodal corridor connects China and Europe, passing through the region via ferry terminals, rail systems, and roads across various countries.

To enhance the Middle Corridor’s efficiency a roadmap for the digitalisation of multimodal data and document exchange, in accordance with UN standards and documents, was endorsed in Baku.

"The idea is to harmonise digitalisation along the whole supply chain using UN standards as well as UN semantic standards and reference data models, so that data can flow seamlessly along the whole supply chain, moving from one mode of transport to another, from one sector of the supply chain to another. The buzzword in all of that is interoperability," said Mario Apostolov, Regional Adviser at the UNECE's ECT Division.

"This is a multimodal route that we are trying to develop; since the demand has grown, we expect that when the decisions and recommendations of SPECA are applied it will have a multiplier effect that will significantly increase freight traffic on our corridor," revealed Gaidar Abdikerimov, the Secretary General of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route.

Kazakhstan 'quite serious' about the green energy transition

How SPECA can become a region of interconnected energy systems, moving towards lower carbon energy sources, was another major topic of discussions in Baku.

"We are really encouraging member states to scale renewable energy resources, to integrate them in their energy mix through low and zero-carbon technologies, to strengthen the capacity of the grid to absorb the additional renewable energy capacity, because this will help the region to achieve energy resiliency and to achieve net zero," said Iva Brkic, the Economic Affairs Officer at UNECE.

UN agencies are working with SPECA states, helping to develop tools and design energy policies to achieve resilient and carbon neutral energy systems.

Euronews asked the President of Kazakhstan, Kasym Jomart Tokayev, how his country sees the net-zero transformation.

"We are quite serious about decarbonising our economy, and about the diversification of our economy, making impetus on developing non-carbon sectors in Kazakhstan," he told Euronews.

"It’s a challenge. There needs to be a huge change in our mindsets first of all, and I do acknowledge that it’s a general trend in global economic development, and Kazakhstan won’t lag behind, and at the same time we are very much committed to environmental protection. Yes, Kazakhstan still relies on coal in its energy mix, but I think that in the nearest future the situation will change positively."

The region’s energy potential is huge. SPECA states are working to diversify energy transit routes to global markets.

"Energy resources are distributed unevenly. To ensure the energy security of countries, there is an objective need for cooperation and interconnection," said Samir Valiyev, Azerbaijan's Deputy Minister of Energy.

"The SPECA program at the forum helps to foster this cooperation, as well as the organisation of ongoing discussions and the harmonisation of rules, and legislation in the support and organization of various infrastructure projects."

Climate change and lack of water resources are among the region’s crucial challenges. SPECA can, no doubt, play an important role in addressing these challenges.

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