Closing Statement at the Ministerial Segment of the Second Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the closing session of the Second Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration in Asia and the Pacific. Congratulation to all of you for having adopted a declaration on enhancing RECI to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda this afternoon. I met some of the delegations on sidelines and have received good feedback on how useful this platform is and how they found exchanges to be substantive.

Three take aways for future work program in RECI are the following.

First, the four elements of RECI must be taken forward in an integrated manner. Seamless connectivity needs to be complimented by trade facilitation agreements and simpler regulations to promote trade and investment. I note member States have reaffirmed their commitment to doing so in line with the regional roadmap and the priority areas identified in the 2013 Bangkok Declaration. Member states recognize the gaps in transport, energy and ICT connectivity and want ESCAP continued attention and support. Upgrading infrastructure requires investment which calls for integrated, sustainable and innovative approaches to project financing, as well as deeper financial markets and more diverse sources of funding. As we upgrade our infrastructure, we need to ensure it reduces vulnerabilities and supports disaster risk reduction. There have been calls to ensure sustainable development of infrastructure recoginizing need for environment concerns and ensuring climate friendly infrastructure investments.

Second, we must work multilaterally to consolidate, simplify and streamline the complex web of bilateral and plurilateral agreements between Asia-Pacific countries in all areas impacting on trade and investment. Intraregional trade, needs intraregional norms and standards, based on internationally agreed ones to promote further expansion of trade and investment with the rest of the world. Such mutually agreed standards are essential to reduce trade and transit costs through trade facilitation, to combat protectionism and to promote the market integration to support growth, jobs and sustainable development.

Third, ESCAP will respond to member States’ wish to strengthen RECI by fully harnessing our intergovernmental Committees in areas such as transport, ICT, energy, financing for development, trade and investment, and disaster risk reduction and resilence. We will of course continue to work with all the relevant subregional organizations that have a positive contribution to make and to deepen our cooperation with ambitious regional initiatives. In this regard, we take note of the views of member States that the Belt and Road Initiative and other regional initiatives have the potential to accelerate progress on RECI. There have been request for supporting these initiatives, while continuing engagement with subregional organizations.We believe that ESCAP can provide technical support for the implementation of such initiatives so that countries can optimize their economic gains.

I would add that as we strive to take RECI a step further, there are several key principles which must underpin our work, as your discussions have highlighted. Priority assistance must be given to countries with special needs – including through capacity building and technical assistance – to ensure they can take full advantage of deep economic integration. For example, as countries move towards the conclusion of RCEP, or embark on FTAAP, it is esential they undertake a sustainability inpact analysis of their membership in such mega-regional endevaours to design and execute negotiation mandates that will result in development oriented provisions in line with long term sustainable developemnt goals and aspirations for shared prosperity. It is also important to know what is the cost in terms of lost developemntal opportunities for countries that are excluded from such mega-deals. The rights of migrant workers must never be lost sight of, and I look forward to strengthening our regional dialogue on how these are best protected. Gender equality, and female participation in our economies should be hardwired into RECI work. And we must improve our ability to measure our progress by strengthening the quality of our data and statistical systems across Asia and the Pacific.

Member states can count on ESCAP to continue driving the RECI agenda forward as a key means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable economic development. We have taken careful note of the requests addressed to me in your declaration. They will be acted upon and you will be invited to review our joint progress during a Third Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific in 2021.
To conclude, I would like to thank all delegates for their contributions, our Chairman for skillfully guiding the discussions to a successful outcome and my own staff for their dedication in preparing this conference, both substantively and logistically.

I wish you a safe journey home.