Promoting economic development in Central Asia, a critical step toward genuine long-term stability, is a key challenge for regional governments and the international community. Strengthening regional cooperation is one of the most powerful ways to foster development and would enable the states of Central Asia to better meet the daunting individual and collective challenges they face.

To deepen understanding of these challenges, the Center for European Policy Studies, the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment, and the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior, with the support of the Asian Development Bank, held an international conference on promoting regional cooperation and development in Central Asia in Brussels in March 2009.

Resource Development is Key
In recent years, key infrastructure and agreements to facilitate the business relationships necessary to promote regional economic cooperation and development in Central Asia have been implemented. These developments take place at a time when some parts of the region are enjoying economic growth, primarily as a result of their significant activity in resource-based sectors. The emergence of local centers of economic dynamism indicates that natural resource development will play a leading role, along with foreign investment, in building prosperity.

Overcoming Obstacles Collectively
At the same time, many parts of Central Asia are marked by extreme poverty and underdevelopment and lack the infrastructure to achieve sustainable economic advancement. Progress will require a considerable commitment from local and international actors to overcome the range of factors that stand in the way of further economic cooperation and which act as a brake on development. Enhanced coordination between the varieties of actors working in the region will strengthen these commitments.

A Role for International Actors
Trade, transport and energy are promising areas for regional cooperation, and international actors can help facilitate the engagement necessary. In July 2007, the European Union launched a new initiative designed to strengthen the Union’s engagement in Central Asia and provide greater focus for its activities. Development, regional cooperation and stability are at the heart of the strategy, and these interests overlap with several other international actors in the region. The EU initiative draws on political, economic and social initiatives to address these common concerns.