Astana Economic Forum discusses urbanisation trends

NUR-SULTAN – Almost 5,500 delegates from 74 countries gathered May 16 for the first day of the two-day 12th Astana Economic Forum (AEF). The annual forum is considered a key economic event in Eurasia and the theme of this year’s forum was “Inspiring growth: people, cities, economies.”

“By 2030, 5.1 billion people, or 60 percent of the global population, will be living in cities. Environmental pressures are unprecedented. Today, only 10 percent of urban residents have adequate conditions in line with recommendations of the World Health Organisation,” said Boston Consulting Group Board of Directors Chair Hans-Paul Bürkner.

In more than 50 sessions over two days, forum participants discussed the development of human capital, new trends and innovations in technology, regional macroeconomic developments as well as global challenges.

“Most importantly, we need inclusive and sustainable growth that lifts up the prospects of women, young people, the poor, and those who live in rural areas and that raises the expectations of future generations,” said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde in addressing the forum participants. “If Central Asia can harness the power of fintech, as emerging economies in other regions have done, the potential gains for the poor, women, and young people are significant.”

According to Lagarde, although there is no single solution that can be universal to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth, there are four principles that should guide next steps. First, “fiscal policy should balance debt concerns with critical initiatives in health, education, and infrastructure,” she said. Second, there is a need to address corruption in the region. Third, there is a need to continue to eliminate legal and economic barriers empowering women and other under-represented groups. Fourth, “the financial sector should be sound and its services widely accessible,” she said.

Lagarde also said events such as the forum help the regions address ongoing global challenges.

“We are expecting a rebound in late 2019, but it seems precarious and vulnerable to downside risks. These include country-related uncertainties, such as Brexit, and broader tension around trade and unease in global financial markets. To address these issues and put growth on a higher and more inclusive path, the world needs strong international cooperation in addition to good domestic policies. Events such as the Astana Economic Forum provide a platform for regional cooperation,” said Lagarde.

Kazakhstan and Nur-Sultan, while cooperating with other nations and cities, also needs to establish their own approach to development, said Alexander Petrov, the Eurasian Economic Commission assistant minister and the project manager for Digital Transformation.

“The main task of the leadership of the country and the city is to create your own eco-system. You can’t copy someone’s experience. You need to develop your own. For this, it’s very important to keep people who are able to embody the most daring technological tasks set for the city. It’s important that they don’t leave for Singapore or the United States, but they want to stay here and develop their own eco-system,” said Petrov.

Many delegates also noted the AEF and other similar forums provide a good opportunity to facilitate international cooperation in combatting global challenges.

“Forums like the AEF prove to be of the utmost importance to discuss global challenges, come up with creative solutions and trigger change. My goal is to mobilise opinion towards a more optimistic outlook on humankind and the challenges ahead. I think that optimism is a necessary quality in order to foster innovation, association between different individuals much needed for the state of the world today. We are better than we were 20 years ago, now we need to create the necessary conditions to achieve a sustainable future for humankind and the world,” said Former Colombian President (2010-2018) and 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Juan Manuel Santos Calderon.