LAHORE - The second research conference of the CAREC Institute (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation) took place from April 11 to 12 in a virtual format. The event, entitled “Resilience and Economic Growth in Times of High Uncertainty in the CAREC Region”, has been organized in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The conference covered significant areas as green economy and sustainable development, current business risks and regional cooperation, agriculture, and food security. In his welcoming speech, Director of the CAREC Institute, Syed Shakeel Shah noted the importance of the conference for the region, its timeliness, and noted that the solutions proposed by the participants could serve as an impetus for economic recovery.

The main objective of the conference is to foster research partnership and propose consolidated research-driven solutions to development challenges in the CAREC region. This two-day virtual research conference brings together researchers and representatives of governments, international organizations, research institutes and think tanks across the CAREC region and beyond.

Iskandar Abdullayev, Deputy Director of the CAREC Institute, presented the first volume of the Yearbook of the CAREC Institute, after which the speakers made presentations highlighting the main conclusions and policy recommendations from the book.

On the first day, the conference participants concluded that CAREC members should jointly promote regional economic growth through enhanced policy coordination and practical cooperation; actively promote digitalization; and prioritize green and sustainable development in their regional cooperation. The second day of the CAREC Institute research conference focused on exploring current business risks and regional cooperation, sustainable agriculture, and food security. One of the important topics discussed throughout the second day of the conference was the impact of COVID-19 on SMEs. SMEs represent more than 90% of total businesses in Central Asia, but their contribution to GDP is between 25% and 41%, except in Uzbekistan, which is closer to OECD average of around 55%.

To guarantee quick and robust recovery of the SME sector it is crucial that governments of Central Asian countries developed comprehensive packages to support SMEs and individual entrepreneurs, including tax and financial measures, simplification of administrative procedures and requirements, suspension of inspections and audits. Access to affordable finance for SMEs is the central element of reviving the sector. Highlighting the importance of regional cooperation, realizing the potential of Zangezur Corridor was spotlighted by speakers. In the light of rising population, climate change and, environmental degradation, nutritional problem, future agricultural and food and nutritional security policy in CAREC countries should support sustainable agriculture through the promotion of conservation agricultural technology.