It is an honor to be here today in Dushanbe to represent the United States Government for the fifth gathering of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA). The Tajik government has done an outstanding job organizing this large international meeting, and I want to acknowledge their superb efforts and thank them for their role in hosting this important forum.
This year’s RECCA represents the latest stepping stone in the process of improving regional economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors in South and Central Asia and unlocking the potential for greater private sector-led growth. Each new gathering yields understandings small and large that, taken as a whole, reinforce the considerable and hard-earned progress already achieved in Afghanistan. The region’s wealth of natural resources, nascent trade agreements, and a burgeoning network of transport and energy connections underscore the great economic promise of a more integrated South and Central Asia.
But achieving greater economic cooperation – the essence of the New Silk Road vision – will not be easy or happen overnight. It will require strong buy-in and coordination by governments in the region, its international partners, and investment from the private sector. Without exception, every country in the region has an interest in an increasingly prosperous Afghanistan, as well as the new markets and job opportunities that will accompany that economic stability.
Afghanistan and Tajikistan have undertaken a great deal of constructive preparatory work to identify the infrastructure, investment, and policy priorities to achieve practical progress towards regional integration. Roads, railways, electricity, grids, gas and oil pipelines are all of critical importance. But in the end it will be investor-friendly policies, trade agreements and cooperation, accelerated border crossing procedures, and transparent governance that will spur efficient, regional economic growth and unlock the vast potential in the markets of the region. Indeed, the World Bank has estimated that reducing regulatory barriers would add as much as two per cent per year to the growth rates of South and Central Asia.
The regional economic confidence-building measures and commitments reached in Istanbul last November, and endorsed by the international community at the Bonn Conference last December, offer a strong foundation to build upon. The United States views RECCA as an opportunity to further advance regional consensus on projects and reform initiatives that can help unlock the region’s potential for private investment and increased economic growth. Building on these efforts now will help accelerate momentum heading into the G-8 Summit this May and the Tokyo Development Conference on Afghanistan later this summer.
As we look ahead, we understand the geopolitical realities of the 21st century require cooperation and collaboration among states and economies as never before. That is especially true in South and Central Asia, where regional trade accounts for only 15% of total trade. But we believe prospects for regional economic cooperation among the countries of this region are better than they have been in years. It is critical to maintain this momentum because as Afghanistan increasingly assumes responsibility for its own security, we must ensure that we are helping it transition to a stable and sustainable situation.
The United States again congratulates and thanks the Government of Tajikistan for its leadership and world-class hospitality, and pledges to continue working with Afghanistan and its neighbors to expand cooperation, prosperity and opportunity in this vital region of the world.