Central Asia’s Transport Revolution: Role of EU in Shaping Future

Central Asia, strategically located between Europe and Asia, holds immense potential for trade and economic development. However, the region faces significant challenges in transport infrastructure and connectivity. 

Alessia Canuto.

A groundbreaking study funded by the European Commission and conducted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has unveiled the Central Trans-Caspian Network (CTCN) as the key to unlocking Central Asia’s transport potential. Spanning across the Middle Corridor from southern Kazakhstan to all five Central Asian states, the CTCN offers unprecedented regional connectivity. The European Union (EU) now emerges as a crucial catalyst in shaping the future of transport in Central Asia, having an opportunity to facilitate growth and regional cooperation.

Central Asia’s journey towards seamless connectivity requires concerted efforts to overcome existing challenges. Insufficient transport infrastructure and soft connectivity pose significant obstacles to the region’s development. Recognizing the need for change, the EU envisions a comprehensive transport network that bridges infrastructure gaps and eliminates bottlenecks. 

Achieving this transformative vision necessitates equal and fair access to networks for all regional players, along with coordinated investments in domestic networks aligned with international corridors. The region’s unique geography, straddling Europe and Asia, presents an opportunity to become a crucial link in global trade routes. By leveraging the potential of the Middle Corridor, which passes through major Central Asian cities, including Almaty, Bishkek, Shymkent, and Tashkent, the region can foster economic growth and regional integration. 

To propel this transport revolution forward, key actions have been identified as crucial drivers of progress. Establishing a robust network management institution will provide the necessary framework for efficient operations, ensuring smooth connectivity and logistics. Streamlining policymaking, control, and licensing functions will enhance transparency and governance, fostering an environment conducive to regional cooperation. 

Furthermore, promoting coordination between transport projects and economic sectors will ensure optimal resource allocation and enhance the integration of transportation with other industries. Prioritizing transport decarbonization policies will contribute to sustainability and support the global commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Embracing digitalization and innovative technologies will enhance efficiency and facilitate the movement of goods and services across borders.

Central Asia’s transport revolution requires substantial financial investment. To revamp and modernize the region’s transport infrastructure, an estimated 18.5 billion euros (US$20 billion) is needed. This investment will encompass critical areas such as rehabilitating and expanding railways and roads, improving port capacities, upgrading border crossing points, and establishing state-of-the-art multimodal logistics centers. While financial investment is crucial, the success of soft connectivity aspects depends on the commitment and political will of Central Asian governments to prioritize regional cooperation and trade facilitation.

As a global leader in connectivity, the EU assumes a pivotal role in helping shape Central Asia’s transport future. Drawing from its successful experience with the Trans-European Transport Network, the EU brings invaluable expertise, resources, and best practices to support Central Asia’s infrastructure and connectivity aspirations. Collaboration, knowledge sharing, and strategic partnerships between the EU and Central Asian governments are crucial for implementing sustainable transport solutions. 

The EU’s support encompasses technical assistance, capacity building, and funding opportunities. By leveraging its networks and facilitating dialogue, the EU can assist Central Asian governments in implementing effective transport policies, promoting regulatory harmonization, and fostering regional cooperation. This collaboration will unlock the region’s full potential, enabling it to become an integral part of global trade and economic development.

Central Asia, once a land of untapped capabilities, now stands on the eve of a transformative transport revolution, poised to reshape its future. With the support and engagement of the European Union, this region teeming with vibrant cultures, bustling markets, and rich history can transcend its challenges and unbolt a new era of growth, integration, and prosperity. 

As the EU and Central Asia join forces to address the infrastructure gaps and embrace the power of soft connectivity, a tapestry of opportunity unfolds: from the rugged mountains of Kazakhstan to the bustling bazaars of Uzbekistan, a network of transport routes will pave the way for unprecedented trade, fostering economic progress that knows no bounds. Through strategic partnerships and a shared vision, Central Asia will become the beating heart of a global trade nexus, connecting continents and unleashing the immense potential of a rapidly changing world. 

The EU’s unwavering commitment to Central Asia’s transport revolution will not only catalyze economic prosperity but also foster a deep sense of unity. Indeed, Central Asia’s transport revolution is not merely about roads and railways; it is a symbol of hope, determination, and the human spirit. It is a testament to the power of collaboration and the unwavering belief in a brighter future. 

Together, the EU and Central Asia will shape a destiny that transcends borders, unlocking the true potential of this magnificent region and leaving an indelible mark on history.

The author is a graduate in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from LUISS University in Rome. Canuto focuses on international relations, geopolitics, international law, and economic development. 

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