Sustainable Development and Connectivity and Central Asia's Path Forward
Author: Samantha Fanger
Oct 6, 2023
In a global era of fragmented politics and isolationist sentiments, the Caspian Policy Center’s 4th Annual Business Forum on September 19 offered a unique and inclusive platform for discussion over the Caspian and Central Asian regions’ progress in economic and sustainable development sectors. The evening’s discourse highlighted a resounding theme—an emerging era of regional connectivity and U.S. cooperation with Central Asia.
“Year on year, conversation after conversation, I recognize more and more a phenomenon that’s underway and I believe it to be invaluable as it is inevitable: A new Central Asia is emerging. And it will be more independent, economically resilient and interconnected than ever before,“ said Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia, Änjali Kaur, in her keynote address. Kaur highlighted some significant developments that have demonstrated greater regional connectivity and international cooperation in the region. One major component to increasing regional connectivity is fortifying existing exchanges and working to build new ones. “A strengthened trans-Caspian Corridor could breathe new life into the region’s economy, promoting cross-border trade and generating new opportunities for direct investment and improved livelihoods,” Kaur said.
A notable example of this from this past week was the inauguration of the Sarzha multifunctional marine terminal at Kazakhstan’s Port of Kuryk on September 29—a significant milestone was reached in advancing regional connectivity along the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also known as the Middle Corridor. This infrastructure project, spearheaded by Semurg Invest, is poised to boost the TITR's annual capacity by 10 million tons. The newly operational gas terminal not only promises to contribute substantially to the national economy but also emerges as a pivotal link between regional partners and Western markets.
In parallel with this development, the region is taking notable strides toward greater unity and cooperation, encompassing issues spanning climate, international development, and security. This momentum was illustrated during a historic meeting held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 19. President Biden engaged in a C5+1 meeting with the five Central Asian leaders, marking the first such meeting between the U.S. and the C5 countries at the presidential level. A joint statement following the meeting underscored key areas for future bilateral and regional cooperation, emphasizing the continued investment in and development of the Trans-Caspian Trade Route, commonly referred to as the "Middle Corridor." The statement also highlighted the importance of energy infrastructure and the expansion of transportation networks connecting Central Asia to South Asia, all of which are essential for diversifying transport routes. To further economic goals within the C5+1 framework, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI) will explore opportunities to scale infrastructure investments, thereby accelerating economic development, enhancing energy security, and fostering connectivity along the Middle Corridor.
While the aforementioned meeting symbolized a significant increase in U.S. and international attention toward Central Asian partnerships, concrete actions to follow suit are already in motion. Samantha Power is scheduled to visit Central Asia in the coming month to convene a C5+1 regional connectivity ministerial meeting aimed at addressing concrete actions for inclusive and sustainable economic development in the region. This presents a crucial opportunity to chart a course toward tangible measures that promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth across the entire region. Key issues on the agenda include expanding the region's export markets, bolstering energy sovereignty, combating climate change, nurturing entrepreneurship, and preparing Central Asia's youth for the demands of the 21st-century workplace.
USAID remains committed to leveraging the C5+1 format as a pivotal platform for coordinating efforts to tackle the most pressing development challenges of our time. While the region has seen an influx of international engagement in the last year, according to Kaur, “local and national leaders will have to work together. We will need to tackle daunting administrative infrastructure and political obstacles to growth.” Moving forward, overcoming these obstacles involves addressing the issue of low productivity within the state-owned enterprises that wield substantial influence in regional transportation sectors. Additionally, it necessitates the alignment of diverse standards and enhancing infrastructure quality at the local, national, and regional levels. Equally crucial is the continuous improvement of governance and operational efficiency to enhance transparency and resource optimization within the transportation sector. USAID Administrator Samantha Power’s visit Central Asia will aim to address these very challenges. "I can’t overstate how critical an opportunity this is for us to chart a course towards concrete actions that drive inclusive sustainable economic development across the entire region,” Kaur said. “We plan on using this time to address key issues related to expanding the region’s export markets, promoting energy sovereignty, combatting climate change, cultivating entrepreneurship and preparing Central Asia's youth for the 21st Century work place.”