Asian Development Bank and Asian Development Bank Institute.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Ramzan, Muhammad
Pub Date: 03/22/2010
Publication: Name: Pakistan Development Review Publisher: Pakistan Institute of Development Economics Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business, international; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Reproduced with permission of the Publications Division, Pakistan Institute of Development Economies, Islamabad, Pakistan. ISSN: 0030-9729
Issue: Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 49 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Infrastructure for Seamless Asia (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Asian Development Bank Institute; Asian Development Bank
Accession Number: 238556929
Full Text: Asian Development Bank and Asian Development Bank Institute. Infrastructure for Seamless Asia. Tokyo: Asian Development Bank Institute, 2009.

'Infrastructure for Seamless Asia' published by Asian Development Bank Institute, addresses major challenges in developing regional infrastructure, particularly exploring the costs and benefits, financing requirements, and infrastructure priorities in the region. The key message of the book is that now is the time to go ahead with the goal of integrating this vast and diverse Asian region by developing the Pan-Asian infrastructure connectivity. The book addresses questions like: What are the costs and benefits of regional infrastructure in Asia? What are the major challenges confronting the seamless connectivity in Asia? What are the regional priorities in terms of different infrastructure projects for Asia? What are the financing requirements for developing Asian infrastructure? The book also explores what kind of institutions, policies and frameworks are needed to foster regional cooperation for creating a seamless Asia'? Thus the book is a sort of feasibility study on seamless connectivity in Asia. Energy and transport sectors receive special attention in the book.

The book evaluates existing regional infrastructure programmes, policies, and institutions. Empirical case studies have been used to focus on issues common to Asian countries. Examples of best practices have been drawn from key sectors and sub sectors, such as, roads, railways, airways, and ports (transport) and electricity and gas (energy). The literature recognises that soft structure like regulatory requirements human and institutional capacities are as much important as the physical structure is for the smooth flow of goods and services as well as people across national boundaries. Given this, the book examines both soft and hard aspects affecting infrastructure and regional cooperation.

The book recognises that infrastructure development in Asia lags behind its economic growth both in terms of quantity and quality. Rapid growth in several developing countries has put enormous pressure on the infrastructure. It is acknowledged that the lack of adequate infrastructure can hinder growth, weaken competitiveness of a country, and negatively affect poverty reduction programs. The book informs that within Asia, countries that can boast of better infrastructure have been able to expand their trade while the countries, with poor infrastructure have poorer trade volumes. The South Asian countries fall in this latter category.

Asia is home to almost two-thirds of the world's poor population. Working collectively, the Asian countries can tap their huge economic potential and attain reasonable growth, thereby alleviating poverty. Physical connectivity, can provide a boost to trade and investment, improve environmental health as well as social conditions. While acknowledging that sub-regional programs, within Asia, have contributed to increased connectivity through land, sea, and air transport networks, but a lot need to be done as yet, argues the book. The book notices that energy (such as electricity) and transport (such as roads) are the two most important elements of infrastructure that have not been fully provided so far.

The book estimates that at least $750 million will be required annually during 20102020 to fulfill requirement of infrastructure investment in Asia. It is argued in the book that intergovernmental coordination and regional cooperation is needed to achieve the goals set by individual countries as well as by subregional programs, like Greater Mekong Subregion, (GMS), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), and Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation CAREC. Without a serious commitment and efforts on the part of the governments of the region, these regional infrastructure projects are unlikely to be implemented.

Dilating upon financing of infrastructure projects, the book stresses that the idea of a seamless Asia cannot be put to practice without the availability of sufficient funds. Financing infrastructure projects, especially the ones that cross national boundaries, is challenging task. Given the risk and uncertainties involved, the private sector is shy of investing in such projects. Most regional infrastructure projects are therefore developed and financed by governments. Even the ones that involve public-private partnerships also require some form of government guarantee. Lessons drawn from the experience of European Union show that developing and financing regional projects is a slow and a complicated process. Regional projects often receive relatively low priority for domestic policymakers. Therefore such projects usually require assistance from multilateral institutions. Concessionary financing from external sources may be necessary to make such projects more attractive to investors.

The book notices that till now the approach of the Asia to infrastructure development has largely been bottom-up and market-driven. The book argues that now it is necessary to complement this approach with a more top-down, market-expanding, and demand-inducing approach geared toward creating a seamless Asia. Moreover, the possibility of a prolonged downturn in Asia's major export markets underscores the need for a long-term rebalancing of its economy toward meeting local needs. This will call for many policy changes, particularly putting Pan-Asian connectivity, on the priority list.

To make a case for regional connectivity, the book provides facts on Asia's energy resources (Asia has substantial energy resources 7 percent of the world's oil reserves, 12 percent of its natural gas, and 32 percent of its coal in 2006), the book informs the readers that these resources are unevenly distributed across the region, and are often untapped. The book very convincingly argues that the full benefits of Asia's size and diversity can be realised only by creating a single market where goods, services, capital, information and people move freely. All this obviously call for moving toward that long-term vision of a seamless Asia.

The book will serve as a knowledge product primarily for policymakers in the region.
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