"Central Asia plus Japan" Intellectual Dialogue
The Fourth Tokyo Dialogue
Thursday, February 25, 2010
International Conference Room,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
1. Overview of the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue
On February 25, 2010, the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue was held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan with the cooperation of the Japan Foundation under the theme of "Future Improvements to Logistics Infrastructure in the Central Asia Region." This Track II intellectual dialogue representing one of the five pillars of the "Central Asia plus Japan" Dialogue is called the "Tokyo Dialogue." At the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue, five representatives from the Central Asian countries and 10 persons from Japan, including scholars and government officials, reported and provided comments, with approximately 80 people interested in the dialogues in attendance. The dialogue was chaired by Akiko Fukushima, Special Researcher at the Japan Foundation.
Since it was evident from the past Tokyo Dialogues that Track II conferences focusing on specific issues could provide worthwhile input for inter-governmental dialogue, the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue took up the theme of "Improvements to Logistics Infrastructure in the Central Asia Region," since the area of "Transportation" was raised as a focus area for encouraging intra-regional cooperation in the "Action Plan" of the "Central Asia plus Japan" Dialogue, and in light of the fact that improvement of infrastructure (railways, roads, communication, airports, etc.) and improvement of logistics systems (including intangible aspects) were also raised as possible areas of concrete cooperation in the First and Third Tokyo Dialogues.
2. Keynote Speech by Mr. Tetsuro Fukuyama, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Japan
At the beginning of the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue, Mr. Tetsuro Fukuyama, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Japan pointed out the geopolitical importance of Central Asia, which is also in the spotlight from an international energy security standpoint, and explained Japan's basic position on diplomacy with Central Asia that has been promoted through the "Central Asia plus Japan" dialogue and other events, based on the belief that it is crucial to promote dialogue and cooperation with Central Asia, considering it as a region with great potential. State Secretary Fukuyama also emphasized that the dialogue's theme of "Improvements to Logistics Infrastructure," as one of the most important challenges in advancing regional cooperation in the Central Asia, is a cornerstone for encouraging the economic development of the whole region. With the expectation that not only will improved logistics infrastructure promote intra-regional trade, but also that it will open the door to encouraging the process of integration with the global economy. He presented specific examples of Japan's many forms of support so far for the efforts of each Central Asian country toward improvement of logistics infrastructure. State Secretary Fukuyama further stated that encouragement of mutual understanding between Japan and Central Asian countries is essential in order to forge more multi-layered and solid relations going forward, and he expressed his expectation that the dialogue would generate valuable recommendations for further deepening cooperation between the Central Asian countries and Japan.
3. Main Discussions and Recommendations
The Fourth Tokyo Dialogue saw a lively discussion by participants on "Improvements to Logistics Infrastructure in the Central Asia Region."
The reports from scholars on the Central Asian side indicated a common recognition of the Central Asia region's geographic advantages and the importance of utilizing its advantages, and explained the governments' strategies, including each country's own priority issues for improvement of transportation infrastructure and the special economic zones and other measures designated based on such issues. The reports also indicated that it is a common goal for the Central Asian countries to be successfully integrated into the Eurasia and international shipping and transit network by invigorating freight distribution between Europe and countries in Asia.
It was pointed out that the challenges the Central Asia region currently faces include large physical distances from global markets, the geographic condition of not having an access to the ocean and having to go through other countries, the cumbersomeness of customs procedures, and the long transportation times and high costs resulting from these difficulties.
Moreover, in addition to the differences in the natural environment and geographic conditions of each Central Asian country, it was also pointed out that there are differences among the Central Asian countries in priority policy measures regarding transportation methods (seaports, roads, railways, airports, etc.) and route choices between east-west and north-south routes, in accordance with factors such as the volume of trade transactions, the amount of traffic flow, the standards for shipping costs, and the construction situation and maintenance status of existing infrastructure, etc.
With regard to these points, scholars and other representatives from Japan underscored the importance of government-level dialogues on improvement to logistics infrastructure that transcends borders by bringing up examples of Japan's active support for developments in the Mekong Sub-region, where the flow of people, goods, and money is invigorated and the integration of the region is much accelerated, and showing how economic routes crisscrossing the region and both the tangible and intangible aspects of logistics infrastructure in seaports and airports are being improved.
From the donor's side such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), besides the government of Japan, that assist improvements to logistics infrastructure in the Central Asian countries, there were presentations on the efforts of each as well as the future possibilities of joint financing, and in particular, the utility of the transportation and trade encouragement programs of the ADB's Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) and the importance of aid cooperation were pointed out.
In addition, from the standpoint of the actual work of undertaking private-sector logistics shipping, a presentation was given on the current state of the shipping routes connecting Japan and Central Asia, and it was specifically indicated that improving the logistics infrastructure in the region and streamlining the customs procedures involved in such logistics will in turn lead to the advancement of integration with the global market and facilitate the conversion to a market economy.
Based on such discussions, the following recommendations were made regarding future improvements to logistics infrastructure in Central Asia and the ideal form of Japan's cooperation.
- To realize the latent economic power of Central Asia, it is important to construct united inter-regional shipping logistics systems that encompass industrial development and trade expansion, and to integrate such systems with the extra-regional international shipping network. A priority issue to achieve this is to start with information sharing among the logistics authorities of each country, and into the future it will be crucial to encourage inter-regional cooperation with a view that extends to adopting united policy on trade and transportation methods.
- Improvements to transportation infrastructure must be carried out with consideration for the interlinking among seaports, railways, roads, air routes, and other heterogeneous shipping and transportation methods. Furthermore, in improving road transportation infrastructure in Central Asia where maintenance costs tend to be high due to the characteristics of the region's geography and climate, the appropriate freight shipping quantities on each road must be calculated, the amounts of passage must be regulated, and other measures must be taken from a mid- to long-term perspective.
- For terminal facilities, it is important to ensure maximum synergies by balancing the economic interests of all parties to the shipping logistics process and integrating the flow of products, information, services, and funds.
- Although reduction of the time and costs required for shipping is indispensible for the improvement of the competitiveness of shipping services, measures to achieve this entail ensuring consistent and transparent customs procedures at border crossing posts and vastly simplifying such procedures (implementation of "One Stop Border Post (OSBP)"), as well as updating facilities within border posts are effective. In so doing, it is effective to build united databases in parallel that incorporate regional trading bodies and data on import/export transactions and transit, and in such areas it is crucial to have the support of international organizations and donor countries, including Japan.
- In particular, it is desirable that the aid approaches of relevant organizations and donor countries toward such simplification of procedures at border-crossing posts are consistent, for which it is important for the assisting entities to coordinate with each other.
- From the perspective of ensuring the transparency of improvements to the logistics infrastructure, it is necessary to upgrade communication networks, and it is also useful to implement pilot projects concerning, for example, the traceability of freight.
- To attract private investment, it is important to improve the legal foundation in the relevant fields, and at the same time, in ensuring application of international standards in corporate governance and accounting procedures, support from the side of relevant organizations and donor countries is essential, and continued active involvement will be sought.
The Fourth Tokyo Dialogue identified the challenges of the tangible aspects of improving logistics infrastructure in Central Asia, and even more importantly the intangible aspects such as customs systems and simplification of border-crossing procedures. In both cases, the importance of dialogue among the Central Asian countries and intra-regional cooperation was once again emphasized. Moreover, the expectation of continued, more extensive involvement in aid with full recognition of the unique features and needs of the region was indicated concerning the role of Japan and other major aid-granting countries and international organizations in this area.
Participants in the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue carried out free and vigorous discussions at this conference that were concrete and grounded in the current realities, and gave high marks to the conference for the very effective advice obtained by those on the Central Asia side on the future progress of improvement to logistics infrastructures in Central Asia, and for the inclusion of private-sector participants that enabled concrete recommendations in the context of the real economy. Participants from the Japanese side praised the conference as it allowed them to meet experts from five Central Asian countries under one roof in Tokyo, resulting in lively discussions. (Participants in this Tokyo Dialogue strongly desired concrete follow-up to the above-mentioned advice that was given on improvements to logistics infrastructure during the discussions.)
The participants also confirmed the significance of continuing such Tokyo Dialogues into the future. Suggestions for the theme of the next Tokyo Dialogue included customs systems, information technology and other fields related to shipping services, human security, human resource development and education, the current state and challenges of Central Asian regional integration, development of small and medium-sized enterprises, micro-financing, development of the agricultural sector, and the problems of attracting overseas investment and how to overcome them.
Thus concludes the report of the results of the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue. I hope that it will be referenced in future inter-governmental conversations in the "Central Asia plus Japan" dialogues, and that the suggestions will be realized.
Chair of the Fourth Tokyo Dialogue
Senior Fellow at the Japan Foundation and
Visiting Scholar of the Joint Research Institute for International Peace and Culture at Aoyama Gakuin University
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