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Growth in Central Asia

Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia
Remarks at the South and Central Asia Regional Economic Integration Meeting
Washington, DC
July 18, 2007

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: (inaudible) more opportunities so that you have the choices and you can make the decisions about your own futures.

This Trade and Investment Framework Agreement -- I think it’s a great opportunity to get together and talk about both the big picture of cooperation but also some of the practical aspects of it. We all know that speeches are very nice, but in order to deliver goods to market it takes roads and trucks, customs posts, regulations, harmonization. Speeches are good, but in order to turn on the lights it takes energy and it takes pipelines and trucks, tankers, a lot of other things.

So as we look at investment and involvement necessary to do that, we hope the Framework Agreement can go from the big picture to the practicalities.

We’re certainly interested in seeing American companies get involved in Central Asia. In my travels there I’ve always met with American companies. We have substantial presence in some countries and a smaller presence in other countries. A lot of people who cover the region, and who do go around, find different prospects in different places as we can all work together to harmonize regulations and to look at the investment environment, the business opportunities. We’ll work with you to try to get that information to American companies and try to encourage them to get more involved.

We always point out that Central Asia has enormous potential, and I don’t mean just natural resources in terms of energy and mining. But also people and history and tourism, and some of the high tech industries that were out there in the Soviet period are still potential prospects, like space and some of the other things. So, we definitely look to the new opportunities there.

We’re excited about some of the very practical things. We look forward to the opening of the bridge between Tajikistan and Afghanistan this summer. And that, to us, is a big big development. If you look at it, where the bridge is that the United States built, it’s going to connect to various roads that we’re building in Afghanistan and things we’re doing with the Asian Development Bank. It’s going to connect the things the Japanese are doing and the Chinese are doing and the World Bank and others in the region. And if you add all this together there’s going to be an Almaty to Karachi highway within a few years, and that will open new prospects for all the people of the region.

That sort of road becomes a corridor for lots of ideas and people and education, but also a means of smoothing out some of the trade and facilitation which we need to discuss and I guess we have been discussing and we’ll discuss more today.

Electricity projects remain on track. At least that’s what Bob tells me, and that’s what Bob* tells me Mr. Sharma* tells him, so we’ll see as we get the details where -- where that stands, but we’re very excited about the prospects of electricity movement throughout the region.

I went out a week or two ago to talk to one of the U.S. companies involved, AES*, that already has investments in the region, already interested in more. They’re excited about the prospects as well and talked to us about what we could do as a government to help make some of these things happen on a private sector basis.

I think we all know the private sector is going to get involved based on the market conditions that we can create, based on the investment environments that we can create. If we can create the right investment environment and create the right market conditions, there’s plenty of money in the world, plenty of investment in the world, plenty of interested parties in the world and you can create for yourselves a set of options and choices where you can entertain (inaudible), different opportunities and not have to go out looking and knocking on doors yourself, but have people come and knock on your door. And that, again, increases the sovereignty and the independence of your countries as well as the prospects for development.

So I think there’s enormous potential here. A lot of these things are now becoming concrete reality. And our job is to look at things to try to do more, try to make them real.

So, I want to thank all you again for coming, welcome you once again. I look forward to some of the discussions, and frankly, I’d be glad to hear from the delegations at this point as to how things are going and whether there are other topics they think we need to find ways to cover. So, I’m happy to hear anyone else’s ideas and thoughts at this juncture.

*Robert S. Deutsch, Senior Advisor on Regional Integration, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs

*Mr. Raghu Sharma, Lead Financial Analyst, Infrastructure and Energy Sector, the World Bank

*AES Corporation based in Arlington, VA.

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