The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) meeting on “High-level dialogue on regional economic cooperation and integration for Enhancing Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific” was held at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, Thailand from April 20-21 2017. Hon’ble Lyonpo D. N. Dhungyel, the Minister of the Ministry of Information and Communications attended the meeting. He was accompanied by Mr. Sonam P Wangdi, the Director General, Ministry of Economic Affairs , Mr. Jigme Thinlye Namgyal, the Director, Department of Information Technology & Telecom, MoIC, and Mr. Ugyen Dorji, DCM, Royal Bhutan Embassy Bangkok.
During the meeting, Hon’ble Lyonpo conveyed his appreciation for the work undertaken by UNESCAP and its member states, other organs of the United Nations and development partners in helping to implement various activities in line with the “Ministerial Declaration on Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific 2012” and the accompanying Regional Action Programme.
The Lyonpo thanked UNESCAP for inviting Bhutan and supporting our participation in various consultation meetings, workshops and seminars, both at the regional as well as sub-regional levels. This has helped in capacity and skills development at different levels.
In an effort to further enhance regional integration and cooperation, at least three high-level meetings were held last year between October and December:
1) High-level Meeting on Sustainable Transport of Landlocked Developing Countries in Bolivia (13-14 October 2016);
2) the first Global Sustainable Transport Conference held in Turkmenistan (26 to 27 November 2016), and
3) Transport Ministers Conference in Moscow (5-9 Dec 2016);
All the above meetings have placed adequate emphasis on the need to promote transport connectivity and regional integration.
Bhutan is also aware that Declarations from these high-level interventions have rightly recognized the need for priority attention to address specific requirements of small, low-income and geographically disadvantaged countries. Such a consideration is indeed, much appreciated.
The Asia Pacific region and UNESCAP have recognized that the development of
(a) Asian Highway (AH),
(b) Trans-Asian Railway Network (TAR),
(c) Asian Energy Highway, and
(d) Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS), are the building blocks for achieving regional integration and connectivity.
As for Bhutan, we are a party to the Intergovernmental Agreement on Asian Highway Network as of now. With regard to the Intergovernmental Agreements on TAR and Dry Port, it would perhaps be logical to wait for an appropriate time when these facilities are in place or become operational.
Much thoughts, efforts and resources have already gone into making these infrastructures operational. The bigger challenge, however, is to put these infrastructure into optimal use through suitable facilitation measures and simplification of regulations for cross-border movement and trade.
Regional integration, while desired, is often difficult. Owing to significant differences in the size of the country, population, geographical locations and the level of economic development, cross-border operation under a liberalized market condition often faces slow progress or challenges in the implementation. Bhutan is a member of regional co-operative framework such as SAARC and BIMSTEC and we are committed to regional economic cooperation and integration.
With regard to ICT connectivity, we have made rapid progress. While over 92 % of the population now use mobile services, Internet and broadband penetration is low at 75.44 % as of February 2017. Reducing the costs of Internet connectivity will go a long way in promoting e-governance, addressing digital divide and other unique difficulties faced by landlocked country like Bhutan. Much progress has been achieved on the development of AP-IS.
Four years have passed since the Bangkok Declaration on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration was adopted. The Hon’ble Lyonpo stated that it’s time that we accelerate the implementation of the four pillars of the Declaration. Towards this, he noted with satisfaction that the Declaration has been endorsed by the ESCAP Commission through resolution 70/1 and the Lyonpo hoped that ESCAP Secretariat would be able to convene the second ministerial conference soon. He was also confident that ESCAP would continue to support the countries with special needs in enhancing their capabilities through technical assistance and resources so that they can effectively take advantage of the benefit of economic cooperation and regional integration. We will continue to participate actively in these endeavours.