Addressing the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) in Turkmenistan on Wednesday, the acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani said that with the help of all partner-countries, RECCA has transformed into an effective platform for regional economic cooperation.
“Indeed, it is only with common efforts through such mechanisms of win-win cooperation that can we gradually but surely overcome any existing tensions and jointly address our nations’ common needs, whether in the economic or security spheres.”
He said that Afghan-Turkmen relations set an example and are based on a shared agenda of advancing both countries’ economic and security interests in ways that not only benefit the two countries but also benefit the wider region.
“Both of our countries pursue inclusive political, security, and economic approaches and initiatives, which bolster interstate cooperation at the regional and continental levels,” he said.
According to Rabbani, Afghanistan’s foreign policy has for the past 16 years remained focused on initiating, strengthening, and utilizing mechanisms of regional cooperation, under which projects and programs of common benefit across the region are implemented.
He went on to say Afghanistan is grateful to Turkmenistan for being one its strongest partner countries, “as we have strived to further advance both the RECCA and Heart of Asia-Istanbul Processes.”
He said Turkmenistan was making a profound contribution to both initiatives.
According to Rabbani, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are working together to implement major projects such as the TAPI gas pipeline, TAP-500KV (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan), Lapis Lazuli Corridor and regional railway initiatives.
“These and other notable infrastructure projects constitute the key priorities of RECCA,” he said.
He said the 7th RECCA meeting comes at a time when the need for economic growth, stability, and confidence-building is greater than ever before across the region.
“Our gathering therefore provides a timely opportunity to assess our shared needs; to discuss the challenges that confront us; and to identify concrete steps towards the economic integration of our wider region,” he said adding that regional economic integration is one of the key pillars of Afghanistan’s foreign policy.
He said the RECCA Annual Review 2017 takes note of notable progress in the implementation of several regional cooperation and investment projects.
“These range from large-scale energy projects such as the TAPI and CASA-1000 to regional railway projects such as the Five-Nation Railway; transport and transit corridors of Chabahar and Belt and Road; as well as the Digital Silk Road communications network.”
He said that each of these mega projects hold enormous promise for creating and expanding prosperity throughout Asia.
He also stated that the signing of the Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement on Wednesday in Ashgabat marked a milestone in Afghanistan’s efforts to achieve greater connectivity through improvement and building of infrastructure for increased trade across Eurasia.
“By the same token, the signing of the Joint Ministerial Statement on TAP-500KV and the MOU on Digital TAP are among other major achievements,” he said.
Rabbani also mentioned the new Afghanistan-India Air Corridor Program, which he said had since June enabled the country to export more than 1,150 metric tons of goods to India.
“At a time when extremists and terrorists exploit poverty and joblessness among our region’s youth, the achievements I pointed out will continue to provide employment opportunities for our countries’ young workforce,” he said.
According to him, Afghanistan spearheads the promotion of reviving the Silk Road transport and commercial networks.
“The realization of these networks, however, depends on whether we double and triple our efforts to address challenges that have so far prevented us from fully achieving our goals.”
But he said there were three areas that need to be developed without further delay.
“First, our region is devoid of transport infrastructure, which needs to be developed without any further delays. This requires that we create a coalition of public and private sources in support of implementing our common priority projects.
“Second, despite the immense potential for trade complementarity in our wider region, the actual volume of trade remains minimal. In addition to physical infrastructure development, we must make additional progress in improving soft infrastructure in the areas of: policy coordination, customs harmonization, removal of non-tariff barriers, visa facilitation, improved communications and enhanced air connectivity.
In this connection, Afghanistan is sparing no effort whatsoever.
“To reduce our foreign aid dependency through pursuit of a private-sector-led-growth policy, we are working to make the most of our WTO membership for advancing the facilitation and expansion of trade across the wider region.
“Finally, our region can significantly benefit from greater synergies among platforms for regional trade, transit, and transport cooperation across Eurasia. We believe that RECCA is well-positioned to serve as a coordinating platform in this wider context,” he said.