Statement at the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation

Excellency, Mr. Li Xiaopeng, Minister for Transport,
Excellency, Mr. Hu Zucai, Vice-Chair of NDRC,
Distinguished participants,

It’s my pleasure to be with you to consider how we can enhance sustainable infrastructure connectivity in Asia and the Pacific. Let me go straight to the heart of the matter.

Insufficient infrastructure development is undermining our region’s efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Four years into implementation, progress towards all 17 Sustainable Development Goals needs to be accelerated. This is very much the case of SDGs dependent on infrastructure, such as those focused on Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6), Affordable Clean Energy (SDG7), Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure (SDG 9), and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11).

Accelerating progress will require considerable investment. Developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region require an additional $126 billion of investment a year to develop their transport infrastructure, equivalent to 0.4 per cent of the region’s GDP. This could upgrade regional transport systems and finance the construction of the missing links in the rail, road and intermodal networks. Additional resources will be needed to cut red tape at border crossings, and support measures to agree mutual recognition certificates and harmonize standards. The investment gap is therefore significant.

Considering the levels of additional financing needed, the BRI could make a major contribution to closing the region’s infrastructure gap. It could increase trade, improve productivity and support growth across a wide range of sectors in our economies.

Yet for the BRI to have the desired positive impact on our region’s progress towards the SDGs, sustainability must be systematically placed at the heart of BRI projects. It is vital to ensure projects are designed, implemented and managed to mitigate the negative environmental and social impacts – so often the bi-product of large-scale infrastructure projects.

Assessing whether projects are sustainable must be a determining factor. This is the surest means of maximizing BRI projects’ positive long-term impact for the domestic population. We need BRI projects which benefits the host countries in creating decent jobs, addressing the environmental concerns and contributing to inclusive development.

Indeed, for the BRI to support the Sustainable Development Agenda, coordinated efforts by participating stakeholders are required. At the first Belt and Road Forum in May 2017, the United Nations Secretary-General noted the BRI’s potential to accelerate progress towards SDGs by helping provide global public goods. We remain committed to a principles-based approach to BRI, firmly grounded in the 2030 Agenda.

With this approach in mind, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific, ESCAP, stands ready to support its interested member States to benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative cooperation.

Our new Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on the BRI for the 2030 Agenda flows out of this commitment. It identifies clear principles to guide China-ESCAP cooperation in the BRI in its potential to contribute to SDGs.

Our focus could include three important areas.

First, we can increase institutional and technical capacities needed to underpin sustainable transport infrastructure and logistics development in the region.

Second, we can support the exchange of best practice and foster a common approach to regional economic integration based on international standards, UN values and norms.

Third, we can monitor the impact of regional connectivity projects to ensure they are contributing to the region’s sustainable development.
We have decades of technical, policy and normative work on which to build. We have supported the formalization of regional transport networks, including Asian Highways, the Trans-Asian Railway network and International Dry Ports. We are actively working with our member States to overcome bottlenecks to international transport and improve maritime connectivity. Indeed, ESCAP’s longstanding cross-sectoral approach aims to promote integrated infrastructure development across the transport, ICT and energy sectors.

I am looking forward to joining forces with all of you to take infrastructure connectivity a step further and to ensure BRI projects are based on the principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you a successful forum.