The third Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration (RECI) opened today in Bangkok with a resounding call for the Asia-Pacific region to increase its efforts to prepare for and tackle urgent, overlapping crises if it is to strengthen the resilience of its people and economies.
“Driving greater regional cooperation and integration forward into the next phase requires strong political leadership to promote trade and investment, support growth, create jobs, enhance connectivity and ensure an inclusive digital future,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
Woochong Um, Managing Director General of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), urged countries to reinforce regional cooperation and integration to tackle common challenges, including poverty, inequality and climate change, while promoting social-ecological resilience. He added, “Much work remains to be done, as connectivity and financial gaps between countries and subregions are still wide and many developing economies lack infrastructure and know-how.”
Jointly organized by ESCAP and ADB, the Conference brings together Ministers and high-level officials to discuss enhancing regional and subregional cooperation for solutions to connectivity, climate and digitalization challenges, made more severe by the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises.
“Fiscal spaces for almost all governments have been squeezed lately. Public debt to GDP ratio for the Asia-Pacific region has increased by two-thirds between 2019 and 2021. This has negatively affected the ability of many governments to spend on SDG related budgetary line items and run targeted pro-poor programs,” shared Biswo Nath Poudel, Vice-Chairman, National Planning Commission of Nepal at the opening.
Integration in the Asia-Pacific region has benefited from significant improvement in infrastructure networks. However, regional integration through trade and investment, value chains and financial markets have not improved much in terms of sustainable development metrics, such as environmental goods, employment and economic volatility.
Recent crises have also exposed the downsides of market integration and existing gaps in international cooperation. More regional cooperation to improve openness, enhance business certainty and reduce trade friction is vital for improving the availability and accessibility of needed products and minimizing disruptions to global supply chains.
Over the next three days, officials at the Conference will further discuss mobilizing regional cooperative mechanisms in energy, digital and transport connectivity to enhance resilience. These include the Regional Road Map on Power System Connectivity, the 2022 – 2026 Action Plan of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway and the 2022 – 2026 Regional Action Programme for Sustainable Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific.
On the sidelines of the Conference, ESCAP will launch its Regional Trends Report 2022 – Toward Sustainable Energy Connectivity in Asia and the Pacific: Status, Trends, and Opportunities. The report finds that the region’s progress on Sustainable Development Goal 7 is challenged by the fact that energy demand, closely linked to economic growth, is continuing to rise rapidly. It highlights potential benefits and significant opportunities of increased power system connectivity as a tool for sustainable development..