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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

29 July 2020

Distinguished participants,

Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak at the 2020 AIIB Annual meeting.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the face of development in Asia and the Pacific. Member States are tirelessly working to explore inclusive and sustainable solutions in overcoming the ever-growing health and economic crisis since early 2020. This is potentially undermining the expected progress in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Sustainable regional connectivity lies at the heart of Regional Road Map for Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific. Sustainable regional connectivity is at the core of enhancing regional cooperation.

I echo the growing call to strengthening sustainable regional connectivity by promoting seamless transport, trade, energy and digital networks in the context of COVID-19 recovery strategies.

The availability, accessibility and affordability of high-quality and sustainable regional infrastructure networks for transport, trade, energy and ICT have long been driving factors for spurring economic growth and jobs creation in our societies.

In this context, ESCAP’s regional intergovernmental platform has developed agreements and modalities to foster pathways for regional connectivity such as the Asian Highway Network (2004), Trans-Asian Railway Network (2006), Dry Ports (2013), Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific (2016), Energy Connectivity (2017) and Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (2017).

These regional efforts have been ensuring seamless integration of various frameworks to facilitate cross-border connectivity. However, the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic has taught us some important lessons on the way forward in shaping the future of sustainable regional connectivity Asia and the Pacific.

Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

Amidst great disruptions of transport, trade and human mobility and much more, member States also shown solidarity by taking a swift and pragmatic action to overcome these challenges.  Meaningful efforts were made by the Governments to preserve cross-border trade and transport connectivity during the COVID-19 crisis along various regional connectivity routes.

Most of the member States party to the Asian Highway Network maintained all or a significant part of their land borders open for freight. Two thirds have implemented special trade and transport facilitation measures, helping a smoother movement of essential goods and, in many cases, of general freight.

Freight transport also proceeded with very limited interruptions along the Trans-Asian Railway Network and rail has become an even more vital link in international trade. Ports remained operational for freight, supporting the bulk of the global trade and preventing full dismantling of the global supply chains in Asia and the Pacific.

Digitization of services is now at the fore front of providing contactless solutions and electronic platforms for maintaining trade and businesses along the global and regional supply chains. It plays a crucial role in international rail transport, where, so far, the uptake of new technologies was much slower than in other transport sectors. Technology-led economic growth and development is now a reality in bolstering regional connectivity in the post-COVID-19 era.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

In view of COVID-19 crisis, we see emergence of several policy priorities. Let me share some of my thoughts in each of four areas of regional connectivity.

First is to focus on transport and trade connectivity.

During this pandemic, the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States continue to suffer from low levels of land and maritime transport connectivity.

Faced with the reduced demand, increasing operational restrictions and many other challenges arising from the pandemic, the small and medium operators were hardest hit groups. It raises costs and delayed cross-border operations due to COVID-19 lockdown and closures.

This is particularly worrying as Governments are still significantly lacking investments opportunities required for upgrading and maintenance along the Asian Highways, the Trans-Asian Railways and the rest of transport infrastructure.

According to ESCAP estimates, the developing Asia-Pacific region needed to invest an additional $126 billion in transport infrastructure annually, accounting for 0.4 per cent of the region’s GDP.

Second is to focus on energy connectivity.

Policymakers have realised the importance of access to electricity, as a critical enabler for both remote work and distance learning in times of COVID-19 crisis. The impact of pandemic on power consumption has also revealed the value of renewable energy resources, which, because of its low operating costs, has provided an increasing share of power generation in recent months.

Accelerating progress in SDG7 by increasing investment for accessibility and renewable generation of energy has gained momentum as a part of preparing national recovery plans.

 

In this regard, ESCAP has developed a draft Electricity Connectivity Roadmap for Asia and the Pacific. Among other things, this Roadmap details nine strategies that, if put into practice, can help accelerate connectivity in the region while also ensuring that it is fully coherent with the SDGs.

Third is to focus on digital connectivity.

There is a need to close digital divide in Asia and the pacific. Strengthening digital connectivity for stepping up regional connectivity has been featuring prominently in post-COVID-19 recovery plans. Member States have managed to put digital technologies, in varying degrees, to effectively use in better combating cluster outbreaks, formulating containment strategies and gaining the public’s trust by sharing credible information in a timely way.

Digital platforms have also helped maintain livelihoods and enabled the effective delivery of high value-added professional services, while new products such as 3D printing of masks and personal protective equipment, disinfecting robots, contact-tracking software applications have boomed.

ESCAP through its Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS), has for a number of years advocated for accelerated investments in ICT infrastructure and broadband for all.

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique set of opportunities for accelerating sustainable regional connectivity.

I recognise important policy initiatives of our member States to scale up efforts in strengthening cross-border connectivity with sustainability at the core of their recovery plans. Policymakers are increasingly emphasizing the build back better principle as a foundation of their medium to long-term recovery plans.  

Allow me to take this opportunity highlight three guiding principles in building back better for regional connectivity:

  • Leverage Digitization services in promoting smart infrastructure, paperless trade and intelligent transport and logistics.
  • Seek greater Resilience through multimodality and greater operational connectivity to enable all pieces of global transport and logistics chains function in a smooth and flexible manner.
  • Anchor Decarbonization and take every possible step to decouple the intensity of freight operations from the carbon dioxide emissions through greater use of rail, waterborne transport, and through promoting higher energy efficiency.

Let me reiterate that I am fully committed to leverage ESCAP intergovernmental platform and to engage with regional multilateral development banks and financial institutions, including AIIB and other stakeholders. We are natural regional partners in complementing efforts in shaping our future.

We must work together in raising our ambitions for realising regional connectivity agenda in advancing sustainable development goals in Asia and the Pacific.

Thank you for your attention.

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