U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake recently spoke at the fifth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan. He noted that the region’s wealth of natural resources, nascent trade agreements, and growing network of transport and energy connections hold great economic promise of a more integrated South and Central Asia, a network that drives the vision for the New Silk Road.
This integration will take some time. It will require full participation and coordination by governments in the region, international support, and investment from the private sector. “Every country in the region,” said Assistant Secretary Blake, “has an interest in an increasingly prosperous Afghanistan, as well as the new markets and job opportunities that will accompany that economic stability.”
Achieving economic integration will require infrastructure including, roads, railways, electricity grids, and gas and oil pipelines. Moreover, the countries of South and Central Asia will need to adopt investor-friendly policies, trade agreements, accelerated border crossing procedures, and transparent governments in order to unlock the vast potential of the region’s markets. Indeed, the World Bank has estimated that reducing regulatory barriers would add as much as two percent per year to the growth rates of South and Central Asia.
The United States views economic integration in the region as part of a long-term commitment to both Afghanistan and its neighboring states. In a recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Assistant Secretary Blake said “we will continue to have a very strong engagement with all of the Central Asian countries, because it’s very, very important to us that this be a region of stability and that this be a region of economic opportunity and that this region help to really lead the process of regional integration. ... That’s going to continue well beyond 2014.”
The United States views the Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan as an important stepping stone on the way toward regional consensus on projects and reform initiatives that can help unlock the region’s potential for private investment and increased economic growth.