Closing statement at the High-Level Dialogue on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration for Enhancing Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the closing of the High-Level Dialogue on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration for Enhancing Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the closing session of the High-Level Dialogue on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration for Enhancing Sustainable Development in the Asia Pacific.

Our discussions have underlined the need to take a consolidated and coordinated approach in our work to deepen regional economic integration and deliver against the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Together - these two sides of the same coin - can make a major contribution to reducing poverty and inequality, and to promoting sustainable development throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Increasing trade and investment can increase jobs and wages, and lies at the heart of several Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, by taking SDGs into consideration, social and environmental aspects of economic integration can be hardwired into policies to support our region’s development and sustainable growth.

Our Chair, Minister Krishna Bahadur Shrestha, has provided us with a comprehensive summary of the broader discussion and the recommendations which have flowed out of it. But allow me to highlight a number of areas I feel are particularly important for the success of economic coordination and integration in our region.

Together, we must rise to the challenge of pursuing all four elements of RECI in an integrated manner. For instance, seamless connectivity needs to be complimented with trade facilitation agreements and simpler regulation to promote trade and investment. Upgrading our infrastructure requires investment which in turn calls for more integrated, sustainable and innovative approaches to project financing – besides deepening and diversifying of our financial market, and supporting credit enhancement. And as we upgrade our infrastructure, we need to ensure it reduces vulnerabilities and supports disaster risk reduction.

Working multilaterally, we must consolidate, simplify and streamline the complex web of bilateral and plurilateral agreements between Asia-Pacific countries in all areas impacting on trade and investment. To increase intraregional trade we need intraregional norms and standards. We need to cut the red tape that ties up valuable administrative resource, stifles business innovation, growth and job creation.

To deliver on these ambitions, ESCAP takes careful note of participants’ desire to strengthen RECI by taking forward its existing work with renewed vigor and by fully exploiting our intergovernmental Committees in areas such as transport, ICT, energy, financing for development, trade and disaster risk reduction. We will of course continue to work with all the relevant subregional organizations that have a positive contribution to make and to deepen our technical cooperation with ambitious regional initiatives, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative on which we are working in tandem. The time has come to build on long standing normative work to take RECI to its next phase supported by our multilateral framework and multilateral agreements.

Allow me to touch briefly on the main recommendations for each of the four pillars of RECI.

In order to achieve greater market integration, a number of barriers have been identified, in particular -

  • overlapping trade and investment agreements;
  • rising non-tariff protectionism;
  • the of lack of a common approach to regional trade facilitation; and
  • slow progress in liberalizing labour mobility across borders.

ESCAP is committed to facilitating common solutions to overcome these barriers to integration and growth. We will redouble our efforts to support our members’ in their desire to develop regional trade and investment to move rules closer and harmonize them where we can. ESCAP will continue to provide the solid analysis needed for progress in all these areas – for instance to facilitate mutual recognition agreements and conformity assessment procedures.

When discussing seamless connectivity, we have taken careful note of participants’ desire to see regional initiatives in this area. Transport was considered particularly crucial, as missing railway links, substandard roads, costly and time-consuming border crossings are a real impediment to trade and development. We will also follow up on participants’ insistence we work to catalyze untapped opportunities of energy connectivity. Integrating large scale sustainable energy projects needs to become the goal of regional cooperation in this area. ESCAP can also provide the right platform for the agreements needed to join up existing energy networks, and share knowledge and experience of renewable energy. Among other things, improvements in energy efficiency and climate friendly infrastructure development will be critical.

In the ICT sector, the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative can help create economies of scale and bridge the digital divide in our region. ESCAP will work to deliver on participants’ calls to accelerate the implementation of this project through its Master Plan and Regional Cooperation Framework. In addition, cross-border infrastructure sharing between ICT, and existing transport and energy infrastructure projects was recognized as an efficient way to improve broadband connectivity.

To take forward financial cooperation, we will follow up on your calls for improved regional economic surveillance and availability of emergency lending. This will require the development of regional macro prudential policy frameworks to stop risks building up and to manage crises and market volatility if necessary, and we will work with the multilateral banks to make progress in this field. It will also be important to deepen our financial markets, for which purpose we need a common approach to developing and regulating the issuance and trading of bonds and securities. But also for cross border clearing and settlement systems to be harmonized which is critical. ESCAP stands ready to provide the platform and analysis necessary to further cooperation on tax and public spending policies for sustainable development.

To address shared vulnerabilities and risks, ESCAP has been given three clear action points. First, a regional action plan for multi-hazard early warning systems must be developed. Second, we should strengthen science-policy interface to address slow-onset disasters and deepen our understanding of their impact. ESCAP will work to develop methodologies and guidelines to do just this, and to help build effective response capacity in countries at high risk. Third, we will promote the sharing of best practice to make disaster insurance more effective and efficient. We will investigate the possibility of establishing a regional knowledge platform to take this work forward.

The countries of the Asia-Pacific region have an opportunity to move the region’s integration to the next phase and deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the same time. ESCAP will work with all of you to support the multilateral solutions that can turn this ambition into a reality, to deflect the rising tide of protectionism.

I thank you.