From 6 to 9 December 2021, Cambridge University Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) COMPASS Central Asia Forum held a conference on connectivity in the Eurasian region in partnership with the CAREC Institute.
The event brought together a number of researchers from different regions to discuss a wide range of connectivity issues. The conference focused, among others, on resilience and fragility, science and diplomacy, post-1991 economic landscape, environment and climate change, economic corridors and connectivity in the Eurasian region.
The speakers included Prof. Elena Korosteleva, University of Kent, Principal Investigator, GCRF COMPASS project, Prof. Magnus Marsden, University of Sussex & Advisory Board Member, GCRF COMPASS project, Prof. Shailaja Fennell, University of Cambridge, Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, Syed Shakeel Shah, Director, CAREC Institute, Nick Ray, Convenor Central Asia Forum & Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge University.
The CAREC Institute Director Syed Shakeel Shah noted in his opening statement that future developments will depend to a larger extent on the ability of economic powers to forge a consensus on the Eurasian connectivity in terms of multi-modal transport corridors connecting economic agents in the countries morphing into economic corridors forging new regional value chains. He also underlined the importance of a continental vision of connectivity. The PRC, India, Southeast Asia and Europe account for half of the global GDP and they are geographically connected through the Eurasian land mass. The gravitational force of these economies can sustain long term growth in trade if infrastructure is improved and standardized and enabling trade policies coupled with trade regulatory reforms lead to efficient border controls requiring less time and cost for crossing. This transcontinental trade can have positive spillovers in the region in the form of new regional value chains and investment.
On the last day of the conference, the CAREC Institute hosted a research roundtable on corridors and connectivity. It was moderated by the CAREC Institute Deputy Director Two Dr. Iskandar Abdullaev and Peter Nolan of the University of Cambridge. Discussions centered on potential new corridors across Central Asia, the PRC’s role in increasing connectivity and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the trans-Caspian corridor, and South and Central Asian relations.
The CAREC Institute’s Chief Economist Hans Holzhacker focused on BRI’s activities in the region, and Senior Research Specialist Ghulam Samad presented Pakistan’s trade relations with Central Asian countries. The first presenter highlighted the economic East-West bipolarity on the Eurasian continent brough about by the rise of the PRC and its implications for trade and transportation across the CAREC region. Similarly, the second presenter pointed out that a regional free trade agreement with Central Asian economies may not bring perceived benefits (building a competitive environment, developing regional integration, increasing trade volume) to Pakistan’s economy, yet connecting with Central Asia provides an opportunity to get access to Eurasian Economic Union countries.
The CAREC Institute Research and Partnerships Fellow Shakhboz Akhmedov presented the potential of economic corridors in Central Asia. He stressed the economic prospects of the potential Kyzylorda-Uchkuduk economic corridor that may improve transport connection between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and their trade relations while increasing the trans-Caspian corridor utilization. The Uchkuduk-Kyzylorda corridor, located at the midpoint of roads, can foster the agglomeration of economic and trade activities in proximity to the Caspian Sea, helping Central Asia link with Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa, additionally reduce the road traffic in the Tashkent region.
At the follow-up session, Dr. Dina Azhgaliyeva of the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) presented the recent book – Unlocking Transport Connectivity in the Trans-Caspian Corridor. The book examines physical infrastructure development in the region, particularly transport and energy infrastructure, and its implications for trade and economic opportunities.
The roundtable benefitted from active participation of various researchers from the University of Cambridge and other research institutions. In the end, the organizing parties agreed to continue collaboration and hold cooperative events in future.