"Shanghai Cooperation Organization: from Central Asia to Eurasia"
17 June 2022
Remarks by Amb Vinod Kumar, Leader of ICWA/Indian Delegation
Second Session: Economic Matters
Economy to drive agenda of regional cooperation in SCO
Janob Anvar Nasirov, Director of the International Institute for Central Asia;
Janob Zafar Nurmatov, moderator of the session;
Excellencies, distinguished participants,
Mr Sobir Khasanov from the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan has made some very important points about regional cooperation in SCO.
Economic cooperation is enshrined in the charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, for balanced economic growth and improvement of living conditions of the peoples of member states. The Charter calls for promotion of regional economic cooperation, fostering favourable environment for trade and investments with a view to gradually achieving free flow of goods, capitals, services and technologies. Effective use is to be made of available transportation and communication infrastructure, and improvement of transit capabilities of member State.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, in just two decades, has made significant progress in the direction of enhancing economic cooperation. Engaging the business community and organisations, besides the relevant Ministries of member countries, has been an integral part of SCO’s efforts to enhance economic cooperation for economic development. The SCO has the largest energy producers and also the largest energy consumers among its members. It may be recalled that the SCO Summit last year in Dushanbe emphasised increasing mutually beneficial cooperation in the energy sector, including in renewable and alternative energy sources. In the renewable and alternative energy sector, the International Solar Alliance (ISA) can be a good platform for cooperation.
As we have seen during the Covid 19 pandemic, unforeseen events can have serious impact on economies and livelihoods. Mutual cooperation and consultations can help reduce the impact of such events. There is also negative impact of natural disasters on economies, The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), by sharing expertise and technologies, can play an important role in promoting the resilience of new and existing infrastructure to climate and disaster risks.
SCO member countries attach importance to developing tourism. We need to work collaboratively to increase tourism, including for pilgrimage as well as historical and cultural tourism, creating tourism trails across the region, and encouraging investment in tourism infrastructure.
During India’s Chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government in 2020, India particularly focused on creating three new pillars of cooperation: Startups and Innovation, Science and Technology and Traditional Medicine. The SCO Startup Forum is working to create multilateral cooperation and engagement for startups among the SCO Member States. The recent SCO forum on traditional medicine hosted by Uzbekistan underlined the growing relevance of traditional medicine and the need to incorporate it in healthcare systems. SCO member countries have continued their cooperation in Science & Technology to integrate it into all aspects of socio-economic development.
The forthcoming accession of Iran to SCO would be a valuable addition to the organisation. Iran’s economic and connectivity potential, technological advancement and energy resources would contribute to the efforts of SCO to promote economic cooperation among member countries. For the landlocked Central Asian members of the SCO, Iran provides access to seaports. The Chabahar port could be an important gateway to Asia and Europe. The transit time for a test shipment of a block train from Finland to India via Russia and Azerbaijan last year took 18 days instead of the expected 22 days. This was the first test shipment from Europe on the INSTC, following earlier test shipments from Iran and Azerbaijan that demonstrated cost and time savings. The trial shipment of containers from St Petersburg, Russia would further demonstrate the effectiveness of the INSTC route.
For India, Central Asia from ancient times has been the route for trade and travel to Europe. Central Asia would necessarily play an important role in regional and international transport corridors. The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Ashgabat Agreement on International Transport and Transit Corridor are important connectivity initiatives. The first India – Central Asia Summit in January this year agreed that connectivity initiatives should be based on the principles of transparency, broad participation, local priorities, financial sustainability and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. The High-Level International Conference "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities”, held in July last year in Tashkent, provided a unique opportunity to discuss regional interconnection between the countries of Central and South Asia.
Central Asia is the natural bridge between Asia and Europe. The extensive rail and road network in Central Asia make it ideal for inter – regional connectivity. India is committed to increasing connectivity with Central Asia and collaborating in developing the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chabahar port in Iran. The India-Uzbekistan-Iran trilateral meetings on the joint use of Chabahar Port have also been taking place.
The leading business chambers from India and Central Asian countries have forged an institutional platform for promoting business and economic ties. The India-Central Asia Business Council was launched in February 2020 in New Delhi to promote business linkages and mutual investments. The meeting of the India – Central Asia Business Council in Tashkent hopefully would look at ways for enhancement and diversification of trade and investment.
There is clear hope that the SCO will continue to work for the shared benefits of cooperation in the larger Eurasian framework. Central Asia will be the central arch of the new structure.
On behalf of the Indian Council of World Affairs and on my own behalf, I thank the International Institute of Central Asia and Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the initiative to organise this Conference which has provided an excellent opportunity for fruitful deliberations.