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Regional Economic Integration

Evan A. Feigenbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks to Participants of the Third Annual Meeting of the U.S.-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Washington, DC
July 18, 2007

Well, thanks very much, Gary* and David*, and thanks, too, to the U.S. Chamber and to our colleagues at the Department of Commerce for sponsoring today’s event. And let me welcome so many good friends from Central Asia to the United States: the ministers; their delegations from all five Central Asian countries; and, above all, your commitment to help make our economic partnership a success.

Now, I think I’ve met almost all of you in your own countries. And so it’s a privilege to welcome you to our capital city.I know you’ve had some good meetings with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. And we look forward to hosting you at the State Department this afternoon to review progress on regional economic integration and cooperation.

I’m especially delighted that you are here to attend the TIFA*, because this TIFA really is unique: It is our only regional, as opposed to bilateral, framework agreement. It includes all five Central Asian countries. It offers us an opportunity to design joint strategies in support of trade, investment, development, and regional cooperation. And above all, it gives you an opportunity to touch base with our private sector -- many of whom are represented here today.

To be candid, you have a lot of opportunities in the global economy; you just heard a little bit about that from David. But from our perspective, to take advantage of those opportunities, we need to think creatively about Central Asia’s place in the world, and about some of the ways the world we find ourselves in is changing.

And so, I want to talk briefly about that on three levels: First, our rapidly changing world; second the benefits of cooperation in that world amongst yourselves and with your neighbors; and then third, how our own cooperation -- and this TIFA -- fit into all that.

So, first, the world, or, more precisely, the way in which it’s changing: Put simply: the world of 2007 is not the world of 1947, when the world’s major political and economic architecture took shape -- and by that I mean the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions, the key international, political, and economic structures.

There’s been a dramatic shift in the global balance of power, with the major nations of Asia rising to greater prominence than ever before. And there have been some changes, too, in the global economy. And once again, Asian nations -- which is to say Central Asia’s neighbors -- are at the center of that.

So what are those changes? Well, capital no longer flows from just a few major markets but from many. Technology and also skills are more diffused. The private sector plays the critical role in driving investment. And again, the rising power of Asia has inextricably altered the shape of world markets and created major shifts in production, capital flows, and trade.

Now, Americans -- and I’m American, so I speak as an American -- are accustomed to thinking of Central Asia as a “remote” region. You hear this a lot. And it’s no wonder because the Central Asian capitals, by distance from major seaports, it’s by far the largest in the world. Bishkek, for instance, is 2,300 kilometers from the nearest commercial seaport, and Dushanbe in Tajikistan is 1,700 miles from the nearest commercial seaport.

So, geography matters. But if you view it in the context of this changing world, Central Asia is not remote because it lies next door to the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing economic regions to its east and south.

And so instead of being on the periphery of a large economic bloc, oriented westward -- namely the Soviet Union -- you have the potential to become an integral part of a dynamic and booming Asia. But we need to build the infrastructure, and we need to facilitate trade.

And so one challenge for Central Asia is to help develop a new Continental trade, or, more precisely, to foster trade within an Asia -- east, central, and south -- that once again can become an integrated strategic and economic space, as it was through much of history, and from that more integrated Asia to points in the global economy beyond.

And of course, expanded Continental trade also means access to Turkey, to Europe, and beyond. And so this region, Central Asia, has some new opportunities. And we want to work with you -- all of the ministers, all of the ambassadors, all of your governments -- to develop stronger ties with each other even as you tap into that changing world.

Indeed, that’s one reason the United States promotes regional cooperation in all four directions on the compass: north, west, east, and also south. That means: in directions that have traditionally been more (inaudible), but also in some new directions as well.

And this is the second topic I want to touch on. Our effort, and the reorganization of the State Department that I described earlier, given the way Gary* introduced me, has often been misinterpreted and misconstrued as an American “Greater Central Asia” initiative or strategy. And I have to tell you that it’s frustrating for us in the Department of State to read that and hear that, not least because we have never used this term “Greater Central Asia” in any document or in any speech.

We’ve been clear about what we mean by regional economic integration: Simply put, we believe that improved cross-border economic linkages -- trade, investment, but also the human and physical infrastructure that support them, such as roads and power lines, and I’m going to talk about this a little bit later today -- can help Central Asian countries to grow and prosper in this new global economic landscape.

We do not seek to sever the region from other longstanding ties. We do not seek to reorient countries away from traditional trading and strategic partners. But what we do certainly seek to do is to help forge some new connections: to trade and investment opportunities, to cross-border energy projects, to additional deep-water ports, and as I said, to the enormous possibilities of a global market.

So, our consistent strategic goal for sixteen years now has been to support Central Asian independence and to help you further develop into fully sovereign, stable, democratic, and prosperous nations. And so the way we see it, more options in more directions, from the steppes to the sea, mean more opportunities and, thus, more independence. Why have only one international highway when you can have two? Why have only one pipeline when you can have three? Why have only one market when the wider world, as David said, awaits?

So for our part, we see opportunities to help nurture such ties in every direction on the compass -- but increasingly to the south precisely because it is the least developed of the four points on the compass and also because of our unique role in a reopened and rebuilding Afghanistan.

And that is, in part, where the United States fits into all this, and so it’s the third topic I wanted to address. We want to help you take advantage of those opportunities by energizing these links and forging new infrastructure ties to your neighbors -- and to the United States as well. So, the TIFA meeting you’ve attended this week aims to foster precisely that sort of economic opportunity. It’s about attracting U.S. trade and investment. Because while we are proud of our governmental assistance to these five countries, that funding doesn’t go nearly as far as private investment does.

We’re very proud, for example, of the new Tajik-Afghan Bridge that’s going to open this summer, and which we funded. But we cannot decree, nor can we fund the creation of the businesses that are going to use that bridge. That’s up to you, the governments of the region. It’s up to you to create the conditions for business and investment to flourish.

So for our part, we think it’s to your advantage to think and act as an integrated region. Reducing barriers, moving toward the long-term goal of becoming a more cooperative marketplace, will benefit consumers, make Central Asia more attractive to foreign investors, and also, we think, forge new patterns of collaboration. And so for all of you in the audience, that’s what this week of meetings in Washington at U.S.T.R.*, Commerce, at the State Department, and here at the Chamber -- that’s what it’s all about.

And so, ministers and everybody here today, we welcome you. We really look forward to fruitful cooperation in this area, and in other areas. We also look forward to an expanded economic partnership between the United States and all five nations of Central Asia: bilaterally, but also working jointly in support of, as I said, expanding trade and investment between the United States and all five nations of Central Asia.

Thanks for having me, and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

* Gary Litman, Vice President for Eurasia, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

* David Bohegian, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance

* Trade and Investment Framework Agreement

* Gary Litman had introduced Deputy Assistant for South and Central Asian Affairs Secretary Feigenbaum as Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs

* Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

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