Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 98

Pledging to boost regional transport and communication links, the ten members holding the fifth summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) closed in Almaty on May 11 with a communique. The “Almaty declaration” also called for cooperation between ECO-member-states against smuggling and customs fraud (aimed in particular at combating drugs trafficking) and further development of the previously established ECO joint shipping company. At the opening of the summit, Kazakhstan took over ECO’s chairmanship from Turkmenistan. (Russian agencies, May 11, 12 and 14)

ECO, representing 300 million people, is the successor to the Regional Cooperation for Development founded by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey in 1985. In 1992, the organization–renamed ECO–was joined by Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These last six former Soviet republics were keen to reorient themselves southward away from Russia. For land-locked Kazakhstan, the country’s chairmanship comes at a time when its leaders are busy analyzing pipeline routes to bypass Russia. (See the Monitor, May 8) President Nursultan Nazarbaev told the summit that three of the five regional pipelines that ECO plans to build are “in Kazakhstan’s geostrategic interests.” (Reuters, May 11) He added, however, that economics, not politics, would determine which pipeline route was prioritized. Nazarbaev identified the three as: (1) the Transcaspian pipeline (Aktau-Baku-Ceyhan), (2) the pipeline to Iran (western Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran) and (3) the Trans-Central-Asian pipeline (via Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan).

ECO has made little headway in increasing regional cooperation, however. Delivering the summit’s inaugural address, Nazarbaev lamented that Kazakhstan’s trade with the other nine member-states totaled only 1.2 billion U.S. dollars last year, considerably below the 1996 level. He added that Kazakhstan attaches “serious importance” to overhauling highways to Iranian and Pakistani ports. Five international roads with a total length of 7,000 kilometers will also be renovated. Kazakhstan also hopes to use its two-year chairmanship to promote the Trans-Asia-Europe Optical Fibre System, strengthening telecommunications in the region. ECO’s next summit will be held in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, in the first half of 2000.–SC

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