Rapid transportation, easy communication, and minimizing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers between countries and regions are key to economic growth and prosperity. These measures lead to inclusive growth of the entire region by enabling all countries to reap fruits of their shared development and economic growth. It is, no doubt, a win-win arrangement for all the stakeholders concerned.
Banking on this win-win strategy for inclusive socio-economic growth of the entire region including South East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, proposed One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR) in 2013. By 2017, it was rebranded as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As of January 2021, 140 countries have joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China. These partner countries include 40 in Sub Saharan Africa, 34 in Europe and Central Asia, 24 in East Asia and Pacific, 17 in Middle East and North Africa, 19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 06 in the South East Asia. The objective of BRI Initiative is to connect Asia with Africa, Europe and rest of the world via land and maritime routes for improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth by promoting flow of goods, investment and people.
The significance of regional connectivity can hardly be underestimated when we look at the forecast of a leading UK-based global economic consultant, ‘Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR)’, that found out in a 2019 survey that BRI would boost the world GDP by $7.1 trillion per annum by 2040.
Buying this very idea of mutual economic growth by improving upon transport and communication infrastructure for better regional connectivity among Central and South Asian regions, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev hosted a conference in Tashkent on 15-16 July 2021 in which leaders from Central and South Asian countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and India were invited along with other major regional and international countries and organizations. More than 50 countries and 30 international organizations including the United States, China, Russia and the European Union attended the conference.
The conference titled, ‘ Central and South Asia 2021: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities’ had a manifest objective of capitalizing on historically close links between the two regions for developing mutually-beneficial strategic projects in trade, economy, transport, communication, culture and humanitarian cooperation. It tried to explore possible avenues of cooperation between all countries in the regions with respect to economy, security and culture for the betterment of their peoples. Uzbek President, Mirziyoyev rightly said, ‘Without tighter relationships and economic connectivity, we cannot turn this part of the world, and the Eurasian continent, into a stable and prosperous space’. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said in his remarks via video link, ‘United Nations will support these efforts since connectivity is essential to trade, growth and sustainable development.’