SCO-ESCAP relations enter a new stage

The SCO and ESCAP High-Level Side Event Towards Regional Transport Connectivity

A new page in the SCO-ESCAP cooperation opened at the ESCAP headquarters in Bangkok on 23 November 2017. The longstanding fruitful cooperation between these organisations is powerful evidence of the effectiveness of the joint efforts in the promotion of regional economic ties. For the first time in the history of their relations, the SCO and ESCAP have organised a High-Level Side Event titled Towards Regional Transport Connectivity.

The event was on the official agenda of the Second Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration in Asia and the Pacific, which was attended by over 150 delegates from 57 countries of Asia and the Pacific, as well as international organisations and associations. The keynote speakers at the event were SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov, ESCAP Executive Secretary and UN Under-Secretary-General Shamshad Akhtar as well as Permanent Representative of China to the UNESCAP Li Hong.

"Today is a special day for the SCO and ESCAP: our special event on regional transport connectivity is opening a new chapter in the history of our relations. This event is the practical implementation of the commitment assumed by the SCO member states at their summit in Astana, that is, to consistently build up cooperation between the SCO and the UN, including its specialised bodies," SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov said in his opening remarks.

Speakers at this special event focused on the transport potential of the SCO member states and possibilities for the development of transport cooperation within the SCO, in particular, within the framework of the implementation of the SCO Agreement on International Road Transport Facilitation.

An exposition in the huge foyer and the material provided by the event participants highlighted the legal framework for the SCO cooperation in the field of transport and its transit potential.

ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar said in her address: "We have a longstanding engagement with the SCO. The signing of the Intergovernmental Agreement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States on the Facilitation of International Road (SCO Road Transport Agreement) during the annual summit of the member States of the SCO, held in Tajikistan in 2014, demonstrated the high-level of dedication to improving connectivity among the SCO member states. ESCAP provided technical and financial assistance for the negotiation, undertaking relevant research to support the drafting of the Agreement and its annexes. The SCO Prime Ministers meeting held in Uzbekistan issued a declaration to express their appreciation to this model collaboration."

"The SCO Road Transport Agreement has the potential to enhance the sustainable transport architecture and harmonise frameworks as an integral element of the development and operation of intermodal transport corridors," Dr Akhtar said.

"The Agreement opens more than 15,000 km of the Asian Highway routes for transport operation and services. It will also enhance landlocked Central Asia's access to sea. We expect India and Pakistan, as new members of the SCO, to be eligible for the Agreement, which will make the list of operationalised Asian Highway routes even more impressive and will provide a truly regional scope to this legal instrument," the ESCAP Executive Secretary said.

Speaking about the region's economic development, SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov noted that "the rapid growth of digital economy is changing the landscape of international economic relations and increasing the role of mobile logistics and transport connectivity. In this context, it is becoming increasingly important to develop freight connectivity within a macro-region that encompasses large industrial clusters, mining and processing centres, as well as large consumer markets."

Rashid Alimov said that the aggregate length of motorways in the eight SCO countries exceeds 12.5 million kilometres, or 18 percent of the global road network. "The railway networks are developing rapidly, with new transport and logistics hubs linking South, Southeast and Central Asian countries and connecting them to West and Northwest Europe, as well as the Middle East and North Africa," the SCO Secretary-General said.

The special event included an interesting exchange of views. Reports were made by Tajikistani Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade Ilyosiddin Kamoliddinzoda, Praveen Bonigala from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Director of the International Cooperation Department at the Russian Ministry of Transport Roman Aleksandrov, Ruslan Bultrikov from the Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry's representative office in Almaty, Director of the ESCAP Transport Division Li Yuwei and other speakers. Those present agreed that cooperation between the SCO and ESCAP has potential and is spearheaded into the future.

SCO-ESCAP cooperation is based on the Memorandum of Understanding, which was revised and signed in December 2015. The SCO attends ESCAP events on socioeconomic development, and ESCAP experts provided assistance to the drafting of the SCO Agreement on International Road Transport Facilitation.