The UN-sponsored Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) received a further boost at a two-day meeting in Almaty on February 26 and 27. Present were senior officials from all five Central Asian states, the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe, and its Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific. (Itar-Tass, February 26) SPECA, the brainchild of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev, aims to encourage donor states and international organizations to finance thirty-two projects in areas such as industrial restructuring, transport, energy and small business development. At the meeting, Almaty, as the program’s birthplace, was proposed as the program’s regional center. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan also decided that they would manage projects relating to transport, hydroelectric power, and oil and gas pipeline construction respectively. Uzbekistan declined to endorse the choice of Almaty as location of the program’s center and deferred its decision on its choice sector.
To date, Central Asian regional cooperation has existed principally on paper. "Different speeds of economic reform have also rendered economic integration practically impossible." (FBIS, December 12; Reuter, December 12) Even if Central Asian populations show a readiness to work together, public opinion surveys indicate that they seem more willing to cooperate, for example, with Western firms. (ASN Newsletter, Vol. 9, No.12, December 1997, p. 4) Uzbekistan’s slow endorsement of proposals at the two-day meeting may reflect its ongoing rivalry with Kazakhstan for regional leadership. However, SPECA has two main points in its favor. First, the project is aiming to establish the appropriate regional infrastructure, which will decrease the region’s dependence on Russia. Second, interest shown by China, France, Germany, Japan and the USA suggests that financing may in the future be more forthcoming than was the case under a previous organization which also aimed at regional cooperation, the Central Asian Bank for Cooperation and Development, where staff and financial resources were strapped. The precise mechanisms for the distribution of potential donor finance are the subject of discussion for SPECA’s next scheduled meeting on March 23 in Tashkent.
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