A very warm welcome to Beijing and this, the EBRD’s second Central Asia Investment Forum.
It is indeed time to be surprised, as that very striking video we have just watched makes clear.
Central Asia really is now one of the world’s most economically dynamic regions.
This event is testament to that.
But today’s forum will, I am sure, instil yet more dynamism into the relationship between Central Asia, investors and the rest of the world.
I want to thank our co-host, the People’s Bank of China, and the event’s sponsor, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, for all their help in organising today’s proceedings.
It will be very good to hear PBOC Vice-Governor Chen. ICBC Chairman Yi Huiman will also make a keynote speech.
I am also very glad to greet the delegation heads from our six Central Asian countries and my old friends: President Jin of the AIIB and EU Commissioner Mimica.
The AIIB and the European Union are two of the EBRD's strongest partners, due in no small part to their leadership.
So I look forward to their keynote speeches too.
The New Central Asia
Ladies and gentlemen, I imagine that some of you may not be that surprised at the speed of change in Central Asia.
Many of you are part of that change and contributing to it yourselves.
Central Asia has, after all, 60 million consumers.
And this year we expect its economies to grow at an overall rate of 4.6 percent.
That’s the highest growth in 2018 of any of the regions where the EBRD operates.
At the same time, stand back from the here and now for a moment and you can see how quickly the momentum for change is building.
Given its location, the region has always been central to the world’s geography.
But for much of the last century - and indeed further back in history - it was a land apart.
One largely isolated and cut off from the global economy.
Its status today is quite different.
Central Asia is assuming, once again, its ancient role as the bridge joining Europe with East Asia.
A new Silk Road is taking shape before our very eyes.
Trade routes which are, of course, not so much new as rediscovered.
And thanks to these new trade routes, the region will be better connected to and integrated with other regions than ever before.
This Central Asia will, I am convinced, be central not just in geographic terms.
But central to global prospects for economic growth as well.
The Belt and Road Initiative
As you can see on any map, to a large extent this new Silk Road traces the route of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Like investors everywhere, we are excited by the initiative’s emphasis on mobilising private sector investment and the potential it has for raising the large sums of finance we need to meet the region’s infrastructure demands.
Provided Belt and Road investments meet the highest standards, such progress will translate very quickly into real improvements in people’s lives and wellbeing.
BRI could, in my opinion, be a significant factor in helping the EBRD and the countries where we invest build the open market economies at the heart of our mandate.
As well as delivering the Sustainable Development Goals we all want to achieve by 2030.
For example, in our latest annual Transition Report, published in London only a few hours ago, we predict that in some of the Central Asian countries where we work, thanks to BRI investment in infrastructure, real GDP per capita is likely to be some 4 to 6 per cent higher than it would be otherwise.
Interestingly, such gains exceed the estimates even for China, where BRI is expected to grow real GDP per capita by 3 per cent, compared to a baseline without BRI.
You can appreciate then why, for all these reasons, I am so optimistic about Central Asia’s future.
The EBRD and Central Asia
Such optimism is based not so much on forecasts of what might be, as on the substantial achievements we have already achieved on the ground.
The EBRD - and our partners – can take considerable pride in our record in Central Asia.
We are the largest single investor in the region. The total cumulative sum now stands at US$ 14 billion.
Our local knowledge is profound and, I would argue, without equal – which gives me still more cause for optimism about the future.
We are having major impact across sectors and borders:
- strengthening financial systems;
- pioneering renewables;
- promoting energy efficiency;
- modernising infrastructure;
- boosting small businesses;
- and advancing the cause of economic inclusion.
For a long time, outside investors have associated the region first and foremost with oil and gas.
But we are demonstrating today that there is much more to Central Asia than traditional carbon energy and the development of its natural resource potential.
It is there that we are rolling out some of our most innovative products, services and initiatives:
- financing wind and solar power in Kazakhstan and Mongolia;
- providing credit lines and empowering female entrepreneurs in Tajikistan;
- enhancing access to health care in the Kyrgyz Republic;
- and helping SMEs in Turkmenistan
- and piloting a Cultural Heritage programme in Uzbekistan to promote sustainable tourism, part of a 'new beginning' since late 2016 in the EBRD's relationship with Uzbekistan where we have a new strategy and a strong pipeline across the sectors after years of a frozen relationship.
And just as important as our actual investments is our work on policy reform.
Indeed, this aspect of our work will be of particular interest to investors as it addresses such areas as:
- improving the business climate;
- safeguarding client integrity and their compliance with international anti-corruption standards, whether in the state and municipal sectors or amongst our private partners;
- bringing on the skills that you need in the local population, skills that for now might be lacking;
- and encouraging diversity in the workforce and inclusion more generally.
And one last but very important point I would stress about the EBRD and our investments, whether in Central Asia or elsewhere.
If you are already a partner of ours, you will know from experience that EBRD involvement in any project bestows a very distinct badge of quality.
It comes, after all, with only the very highest environmental, social and governance standards. And with our preferred creditor status.
That is the EBRD's value proposition, delivered by highly professional, motivated and experienced staff, based in London and every single Central Asian country.
You will have opportunities throughout the day to engage with my EBRD colleagues.
How time flies
Ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks today, this is our second Central Asian Investment Forum.
How time flies!
And how quickly things are changing!
At the first forum, in Istanbul at the beginning of 2016, we were celebrating the news that China had just joined the EBRD as a shareholder.
Today’s event here in Beijing only serves to highlights the major role that China and Chinese business can play in making our vision for Central Asia come true.
That is true of non-Chinese businesses as well.
The opportunities for all of you to be involved in the success story that is Central Asia have, to my mind, never looked more attractive.
The EBRD is leading the way here.
We do so in partnership with the Belt and Road Initiative, the European Union, other multiateral development banks and investors the world over.
With the potential and strategic directions of the countries that make up the region, I believe that we will together realise Central Asia’s huge potential.
Thank you very much.