His Excellency Rashid Meredov, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, His Excellency Sarwar Danish, Second Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and His Excellency Salahuddin Rabbani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan addressed the inauguration session.
H.E. Foreign Minister Meredov welcomed all participants to Turkmenistan and extended the warm greetings and wishes for the success of the Conference on behalf of His Excellency the President of Turkmenistan Mr. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Foreign Minister Meredov said that “holding the RECCA VII is a necessary and timely step aimed at further consolidating our joint actions for stability and development in Afghanistan.” He added that Turkmenistan pays a special attention to its relations with Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Meredov stated that “the regional cooperation initiated within the framework of the RECCA today certainly serves as an effective mechanism capable to comprehensively affect situation in Afghanistan and beyond”. He stressed the importance of large scale infrastructure projects such as TAPI gas pipeline project; electricity transmission lines including TAP 500; regional railways as well as the Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement and stated that “Afghanistan has a real opportunity to become an important chain in international transport corridors passing through Central Asia from North to South and from East to West”.
Foreign Minister Meredov highlighted the importance of strong political, diplomatic and financial economic assistance to these projects by the world community. He also stressed the importance of SMEs promotion and market access for Afghan businesses and welcomed, in this context, the convening of the business forum, the special event on women’s entrepreneurship and the exhibition on the sidelines of RECCA VII. Foreign Minister Meredov concluded his remarks by saying that “today I would like to underline Turkmenistan's continued stand for active and meaningful participation in these significant and much needed undertakings for the benefit of progress and development of brotherly Afghanistan, for peace, cooperation and prosperity in our region.”
His Excellency, Second Vice President Danish, thanking the Government of Turkmenistan for hosting RECCA VII in Ashgabat, highlighted the exemplary growing cooperation between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan in a wide range of areas. H.E. Vice President Danish also thanked the RECCA regional and partner countries and organizations and stated that their participation at RECCA VII is an indication of their commitment towards our shared responsibility for strengthening regional cooperation, addressing our common challenges, and making best use of the existing cooperation opportunities in the region.
H.E. Vice President Danish also spoke about the common culture and shared history across the wider region as a solid foundation for regional cooperation and integration. He highlighted the commitment of Afghanistan to sharing the benefits of its centrality as a center for regional and inter-regional trade and transit, as well as the role that RECCA is playing in this regard. He referred to the recent achievements in the area of regional economic cooperation including the signing of the Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement on the sidelines of RECCA VII and said that “all these efforts and achievements will definitely turn our dreams into reality and will help us revive the historical Silk Road and achieve lasting stability and prosperity in the wider region.“ H.E. Vice President Danish also stressed the importance of addressing the challenges such as infrastructure gaps and trade and transit barriers as well as the inter-connected security challenges and the importance of shared responsibility in addressing them.
H.E. Salahuddin Rabbani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan thanked the Government and people of Turkmenistan, for hosting RECCA VII and for the warm hospitality extended to all participants. Foreign Minister Rabbani also expressed his gratitude for the continued support and important role rendered by all partner-countries and other participants, which has enabled RECCA to transform into an effective platform for regional economic cooperation. He stated that “for the past 16 years, Afghanistan’s foreign policy has remained focused on initiating, strengthening, and utilizing mechanisms of regional cooperation, under which projects and programs of common benefit across our wider region are implemented.”
Foreign Minister Rabbani expressed his gratefulness to Turkmenistan for being one of Afghanistan’s strongest partner countries and said that Turkmenistan is making a profound contribution to both RECCA and the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process and is a key partner in the implementation of major projects such as the TAPI gas pipeline, TAP-500KV, Lapis Lazuli Route and regional railway initiatives. He also thanked the Governments of India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Tajikistan for hosting the previous RECCA Meetings.
Foreign Minister Rabbani stated that the 7th RECCA Meeting takes place at a time when the need for economic growth, stability, and confidence-building is greater than ever before across our wider region. He emphasized in this context that RECCA VII 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 highlighted the promising progress made since RECCA VI in the implementation of several regional cooperation and investment projects, ranging 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 such as Chabahar and the Belt & Road Initiative; as well as the Digital Silk Road communications network. He in particular highlighted that the signing of the Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement marked a milestone in our collective efforts towards greater connectivity across Eurasia.
Foreign Minister Rabbani stressed the importance of reviving the Silk Road transport and commercial networks and highlighted in this context, the need for addressing infrastructure gaps through joint fund mobilization and investment promotion; unlocking the potential for trade complementarity across the wider region; and ensuring synergy and complementarity between RECCA and other regional platforms across Eurasia. He added that “RECCA is well-positioned to serve as a coordinating platform in this wider context.” Foreign Minister Rabbani concluded his statement by saying that “Let us bear in mind that our shared success will have far-reaching economic and security dividends for regional stability and international peace.”
The following countries and organizations delivered a statement at the RECCA-VII ministerial session on November 15, 2017 in Ashgabat Turkmenistan:
(in alphabetical order)
Australia; Azerbaijan; Brazil; Canada; China; Egypt; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; India; Iraq; Islamic Republic of Iran; Indonesia; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; South Korea; Kyrgyz Republic; Malaysia; Norway; Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Qatar; Russian Federation; Sweden; Switzerland; Tajikistan; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uzbekistan; ADB; AKDN; CICA; DFID; ECO; EU; FAO; IDB; IFC; ILO; ITC; Kuwait Fund; OIC; OSCE; SAARC; Saudi Fund; SCO; TRACECA; UNAMA; UNCTAD; UNDP; UNECE; UNESCAP; UNESCO; UNIDO; UNRCPD; UN Office in Turkmenistan; USAID; World Bank
Summaries of the statements made by a number of countries and organizations:
(Summaries of the rest of statements will be included in the final version of the report at a later stage)
Australia has contributed $20 million to a new Economic Infrastructure Support Facility in Afghanistan – managed by the World Bank – which will provide support for the development of regional energy and transport infrastructure projects. Australia is pleased to be a substantial contributor to the multilateral development banks to provide critical infrastructure funding in support of the region’s integration, and it encourages regional partners to continue working closely together to overcome the very real risks and security constraints to building regional connectivity.
Azerbaijan is pleased to contribute to many projects that strengthen inter-regional connectivity between Afghanistan and its neighbors (including as co-lead, together with Turkmenistan, of the Regional Infrastructure Confidence Building Measure of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process), such as the East-West trans-regional railway corridor which is an integral part of the Lapis Lazuli Route, the expansion of the Baku International Sea Trade Port facilities, and two new broadband internet highway connectivity projects.
Brazil views capacity-building as one of the best contributions to assist Afghanistan and its society, and in this regard, Brazil has offered technical cooperation to Afghanistan. The Brazilian Agency for Cooperation and the University of Lavras - a leading institution in agricultural sciences – have offered to implement a project on agricultural practices through farmer education, aiming to foster the dynamics of the agricultural supply networks in Afghanistan.
Canada stated that the core of its engagement in Afghanistan is the promotion and protection of human rights, especially for women and girls. It further stressed that ensuring that regional trade cooperation includes women and girls – and takes their needs and rights into consideration – is essential to ensuring a brighter and more inclusive sustainable economic future for all Afghans and regional partners.
China pledged vigorous support of the full development of Afghan stability, sovereignty, and prosperity, noting its construction of Afghan hospitals, universities, tech and training centers, crop irrigation projects, and housing projects and likely funding of a cross-border fiber optic cable. As part of its BRI China highlighted both the Five Nations Railway project as well as the launch of the freight railway project linking Jiansgsu Province with Hairatan via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Georgia pledged further intensification of its commitment to Central South Asian trade, transit, and overall economic cooperation, with particular regard to the transport sector. Georgia strongly supports the Lapis Lazuli corridor project, of which it is a member. It believes a critical element of the region’s future success lies in new trade and transit corridors.
Germany believes RECCA to be an important initiative to promote good neighborly relations and regional economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its partners in the region. Apart from large infrastructure projects (which are important to further regional integration), smaller projects that can achieve quick impact results for the benefit of the people are also critical. Germany welcomes the RECCA Business Forum and RECCA’s focus on the economic empowerment of women to engage the private sector in order to meet the challenges of the future.
India stated one of its key priorities is building robust, reliable, year-round connectivity for Afghanistan, asserting that a lack of connectivity directly impacts the economic, security, and political stability in Afghanistan. Thus, the Chabahar Agreement, the India-Afghanistan Trade and Investment Show, and the India-Afghanistan Air Freight Corridor between Delhi and Kabul/Kandahar together represent major milestones in the new era of enhanced connectivity for Afghanistan, West Asia, and beyond to Eurasia.
Indonesia highlighted that bilateral trade with Afghanistan has increased by more than 100% in 2017 compared to 2016 and that Afghanistan has the 13th largest investment realization value in Indonesia among Asian countries with 40 projects worth approximately US$ 12.3 million. In its Afghan projects Indonesia is focusing particularly on energy and power development, SME support, and women’s empowerment in the form of a new Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It further noted it sent the first visit of its state-owned construction company delegation to Afghanistan in September 2017 with the expectation of involvement in major additional Afghan infrastructure development.
Islamic Republic of Iran pledged support for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the whole region. Iran views itself as well placed in terms of road and rail infrastructure to fully utilize and partner with Afghan transit capacities. In particular it values the Chabahar corridor as the east axis of the region, with a December 2017 inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar Port Development Plan. In addition, it remains fully committed to construction of the road project in Farah Province, as well the completion of third section of the Khaf-Herat railway.
Japan has supported the efforts to improve connectivity of the region, e.g. feasibility studies for railway construction and the Salang Corridor rehabilitation project. Japan further stated at the Brussels Conference that it would commit 40 billion yen per year for four years starting from 2017. At the same time, Japan urged Afghanistan to achieve progress on issues such as electoral reform and security. Afghanistan needs to develop its human resources, enact domestic legislation, and encourage its industries. Since 2001 Japan has assisted with approximately 6.4 billion US dollars, with the aim of contributing to the international efforts towards Afghanistan’s self-reliance, while encouraging Afghanistan’s efforts to be self-reliant through an outcome-oriented approach.
Saudi Arabia noted its full-fledged support for the stable development of Afghanistan and highlighted total assistance since 2001 of US$ 640 million, out of which $190 million has gone into humanitarian assistance. Saudi Arabia supported the financing of the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat road project, is committed to co-financing the Armaailk-Sabzak-Qalainau road project with $118 million.
Turkey considers RECCA as an important platform in promoting economic growth, poverty reduction, and political and economic security in Afghanistan and the region. Turkey hosted the RECCA Business Forum in March 2017 and welcomed representatives and businessmen from the RECCA countries to Istanbul to discuss trade and investment opportunities in Afghanistan and its region. The transport projects of Lapis Lazuli, Chababar Port, Five Nations Railway Link, Belt and Road, and Regional Customs and Border Management Cooperation will integrate the economies of the region and contribute to the revival of Afghan economy.
Ukraine pledged support to Afghanistan in the form of pipes, equipment, and construction of the TAPI pipeline, the TAT railway, and the CASA-1000 transmission line. Furthermore, it pledged support for joint Afghan-Tajik projects.
United Kingdom stated that RECCA has the potential to demonstrate the power of regional economic cooperation by bringing increased stability, security, and prosperity to Afghanistan and the region. The UK is pleased with the progress on CASA-1000, TAPI, and TAP-500 Kv, and to further maximize RECCA’s full potential, the Government of Afghanistan is encouraged to coalesce around a united vision for regional economic cooperation to ensure RECCA priorities align with Afghanistan’s national budget and donors’ plans.
United States stated that through RECCA, and other fora like the Heart of Asia and CAREC, we strive to enhance regional security and stability, while working toward the goal of greater economic opportunity for all citizens within a regional economy. The U.S. remains committed to renewing efforts across the region to strengthen academic and professional relationships, reduce barriers to trade, strengthen infrastructure, and protect vulnerable populations. It further noted that we must continue efforts to build a regional energy market through projects like CASA-1000, TAPI, and TUTAP. It further supports facilitating trade and transport by ensuring the fair and successful implementation of existing bilateral and regional trade agreements, and working to develop agreements where none exist today. Finally, the U.S. stressed that we must all work together to link businesses and people across borders.
Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) is focusing its support for Afghanistan on helping to provide the elucidation of Confidence Building Measures. In accordance with the Catalogue of confidence building measures, CICA is implementing CBMs in the military-political dimension, economic dimension, environmental dimension, human dimension, as well as the fight against new threats and challenges that include terrorism and illicit drug production and trafficking. Afghanistan is the co-coordinator for CBMs in the areas of new challenges and threats. It is hoped that these measures will augment the international efforts aimed at peace, stability, and reconstruction of Afghanistan. CICA stated that what distinguishes RECCA from other initiatives in Afghanistan is that it is a regional initiative and takes into account the problems that could have impact on the entire region.
Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) promotes the economic development of a region of over 470 million inhabitants and is endowed with vast natural and human resources, including the people of Afghanistan. ECO promotes trade, quality management, banking and finance, transport and regional connectivity, agriculture and food security, energy efficiency and environment, tourism, disaster risk reduction, health, and efforts to combat drug trafficking and organized crime through regional frameworks and networks for cooperation. ECO has also developed Afghanistan-friendly projects, including rail and road transit corridors, and it has established a Special Reconstruction Fund for Afghanistan, with a view to assisting the country in overall efforts to respond to its developmental needs and requirements. For Afghanistan, with the exception of China, five out of six of Afghanistan’s neighbors are members of the ECO.
European Union (EU) promotes regional economic cooperation through the Heart of Asia- Istanbul Process, supporting trade, commerce and investment opportunities as confidence building measures. The RECCA and Heart of Asia formats are complementary, serving to reinforce regional and international engagement in support of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. The EU will support any format or venue that serves this purpose. The 28 Ministers of Foreign Affairs of EU Member States have just adopted their new EU- Afghanistan Strategy (Foreign Affairs Council, 16 October 2017) with four priorities: peace, regional stability, and security; democracy; economic/human development; and migration. Afghanistan and its region, therefore, have the strength of support from the EU’s 28 countries.
International Trade Centre (ITC) advances RECCA’s objectives by supporting, with EU-funding, small-and-medium-sized enterprises to overcome the many challenges that make it difficult, if not impossible, for SMEs to reach markets in the region and beyond. It supports government institutions to strengthen their capacity to formulate and implement trade strategies and policies and to facilitate the smooth cross-border movement of goods. In addition, the ITC is helping to equip Afghan businesses to better seize the opportunities stemming from accession to the WTO.
Islamic Development Bank (IDB) drew attention to the impressive US$15.2 billion pledged by 75 countries and 26 international organizations and agencies at the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. The IDB has approved US$74 million to support construction of the Kabul Ring Road Project, and while it supports several other Afghan projects it is also considering supporting the Kabul Solar Energy Program. In particular the IDB reinforced its previous approval of US$ 155 million for CASA-1000 and US$ 700 million for the TAPI pipeline. It also called attention to the importance of developing the ports in Iran and Pakistan related to Afghanistan and Central South Asian connectivity.
OPEC Fund for International Development has extended a package of financial assistance to Afghanistan that includes several programs in the health, water supply, and agriculture sectors. Our most recent assistance has been directed towards the education sector, to enhance access to quality education, particularly for girls, and to support the development of vocational education and promote education as a vector for peace, sustainable development and socio-economic integration. In addition, the Regional Interconnection Transmission Project, co-financed by OFID in Tajikistan, has provided substantial benefit to Afghanistan since its completion in June 2011, lending support to priority investments discussed by RECCA’s “Regional Energy & Natural Resources Cooperation” Working Group.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) underscored the importance of linking South Asia with other regions, including Central Asia and beyond, by all modes of connectivity through national, regional and sub-regional measures. SAARC Motor Vehicles, Railways, and Air Services agreements are under consideration for improving regional connectivity. For the benefit of Afghanistan and other SAARC members, it is hoped that these important agreements will be signed during the upcoming Nineteenth SAARC Summit.
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in support of trans-regional connectivity has recently supported the Asian Highway, the Trans-Asian Railway, and dry ports including in Turkmenistan. In support of Afghanistan and land-locked countries it is implementing a project on South Asia-Central Asia transport connectivity, with a series of related analytical reports connecting the region to China’s BRI. It is currently supporting Afghan WTO accession, statistical capacity building, climate-resistant agriculture, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, and ICT connectivity.
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) pledged additional support to the Afghan Citizens Charter, women’s economic empowerment, urban development, comprehensive agricultural development (including value chains), job creation, youth entrepreneurship, SMEs, renewable energy, national infrastructure, management of pollutants, and the Afghan National Standards Authority. The new UNIDO Country Program pledges US$ 14 million to the areas of sustainable livelihoods via private sector development, industrial competitiveness via Afghan industrial policy, entrepreneurship education via technical and vocational education and training, and renewable energy via energy sufficiency support for SMEs.