June 14th, 2006 05:15 EST
U.S. Promotes Integration of South and Central Asia By Louise Fenner
Washington -- New energy, transportation and trade links between the countries of Central and South Asia can help bring prosperity and long-term stability to the region and restore it as a cultural and commercial crossroads, says Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.
Expanding economic links between the two regions “is a win-win situation for all,” he said June 13 at the Central Asia Power Sector Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. Recalling the ancient Silk Road trade route, Boucher said, “We hope this region can once again bring together the goods, people and ideas of the world.”
“Economic stability and independence come from having multiple outlets to the world -- multiple sets of pipelines, multiple transport corridors, and multiple trading partners,” Boucher said. The land-locked countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan “are all dependent on their neighbors and would benefit greatly from increasing their connections to each other.”
He stressed the need “for multiple north-south links, as well as multiple east-west links, to be developed in energy, transportation, trade and communications.”
Developing additional energy links was the purpose of the conference Boucher addressed. The meeting brought together public-sector and private-sector experts looking for cheaper and more reliable supplies of electricity from power-surplus countries in Central Asia to power-deficit countries in South Asia, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The conference was sponsored by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) Central Asian Infrastructure Integration Initiative. USTDA is a foreign assistance agency that builds partnerships between American companies and overseas project sponsors.
The United States has long supported multiple outlets for Central Asian gas and oil “as a way to increase export options and opportunities for all,” Boucher said. “The same principle applies to the reason we are gathered here this week -- to focus on the exciting possibilities for electricity trading between Central and South Asia.”
He said he hoped the government participants at the conference would “establish a framework to develop together a regional power-transmission corridor linking Central and South Asia.”
Boucher also stressed the importance of participation by multinational investment banks to help fund large projects such as hydroelectric power plants and long-distance power lines, and by private-sector companies that provide technical expertise.
He also said governments in the region must assure transparency, rule-of law, and protection of investments in order to attract private businesses to their projects.
To help improve transportation in the region, Boucher said, a $36 million U.S.-funded bridge will open in 2007 over the Pyanj River between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Other U.S. initiatives are helping governments in the region lower regional and investment trade barriers and harmonize customs regulations.
Boucher said he intends to create a new position in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs to help implement the regional integration initiative. He also said the U.S. Agency for International Development is providing $3.5 million “in new targeted technical assistance to help establish a transparent and competitive Central Asian energy market.”
USTDA is providing a $800,000 grant to support a partnership between the Tajik government and the U.S. energy company AES that will rebuild existing power lines and export excess Tajik power to Afghanistan by the end of 2008.
Boucher frequently has spoken about the Bush administration’s belief that strengthening the ties between South and Central Asia “and helping to build new ones in energy, infrastructure, transportation and other areas will increase the stability of the entire region.” This was a theme at his confirmation hearing in February (See related article.)
He also address the subject in his testimony to a congressional panel in April (See related article.)
The transcript of Boucher’s remarks in Istanbul is available on the State Department Web site.
The USTDA press releases on the Istanbul conference and on the Central Asian Infrastructure Integration Initiative are available on the agency’s Web site.
For additional information on U.S. policy in the region, see South and Central Asia.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)