Belt and Road Forum – EU common messages
1. The EU supports initiatives to upgrade infrastructure which contribute to sustainable growth in the Euro-Asian region.
2. In its latest estimate, the Asian Development Bank said that Asia faces a $26tn infrastructure gap until 2030 and the EU has an interest in making a contribution to improving this.
3. Done in the right way, and carefully evaluated, more investment in cross-border infrastructure links would unleash growth potential with benefits for all. This should include all modes of transport (maritime, land and air) as well as digital and energy cooperation and people-to-people contacts.
4. The European Union therefore welcomes China's initiative to bring this to the centre of the debate today. We support co-operation with China on its "One Belt, One Road" initiative on the basis of China fulfilling its declared aim of making it an open initiative which adheres to market rules, EU and international requirements and standards, and complements EU policies and projects, in order to deliver benefits for all parties concerned and in all the countries along the planned routes.
5. Recognising the importance and benefits of improving connectivity between the European Union and China, the EU-China Connectivity Platform was established in 2015 with the intention of finding synergies between EU connectivity initiatives such as the Trans-European Transport Network Policy and China's Belt and Road Initiative. The Platform is a good approach that should be used to identify and promote relevant projects.
6. The European Union has a big stake in better connectivity in and with Asia that contributes to sustainable growth; the European Union is also a big trade and investment partner of all Asian countries – indeed, the top partner of many – meaning that our economic prosperity is deeply interdependent.
7. Europe and Asia share the same landmass. Intra-European and intra-Asian infrastructure links should therefore not be designed in isolation. In order to promote productive investment we need to think holistically and take into account inter-continental links and trade flows in order to build a true network and not a patchwork.
8. There are also persuasive technical arguments in favour of thinking in Europe-Asia terms. Infrastructure networks must be interoperable. We want to bring down barriers, not create new ones.
9. In Europe, we have a well-developed transport network that is fast developing eastwards in full cooperation with all countries concerned (Trans-European Networks, or TENs) including our partners in the EU's neighbourhood. It is in our interest to make sure this expanding network fully fits with other developing plans, in terms of main corridors, technical standards, customs procedures and the other hard and soft elements necessary to have an unimpeded flow of goods, energy and information.
10. Any ambitious scheme to connect Europe and Asia requires an open and inclusive approach. Transparency about plans and activities of all stakeholders must be the basis for our cooperation, together with open, rules-based public tenders and reciprocal market access Cross-border infrastructure links, intra-continental and inter-continental corridors must be a matter for all relevant countries. All should have a fair say about where priorities lie in terms of primary infrastructure networks and secondary/sub-regional networks. Multilateral frameworks, like ASEM, should be fully exploited to make this inclusive approach a reality.
11. This is a long-term project that will absorb large amounts of resources over many years. If it is to deliver on its potential, design cannot be piecemeal. Over the years the international community has accumulated a large body of knowledge about large-scale infrastructure that should be used to the full.
12. Fiscal capacity is a finite resource for all countries and transparent, non-discriminatory procurement is the best means to ensure cost-effectiveness and reduce the risk of misappropriation of funds. We need to apply global standard lending disciplines. At the same time, we need to bring in other financial institutions and a more innovative approach to financing, including public-private partnerships and risk sharing. Special attention should be paid to financial sustainability, notably to avoid the risk of overburdening national budgets with over-priced loans..
13. We have also learned a lot about how to assess the impact of infrastructure projects on the environment and on the local communities who will be most directly affected. It is our responsibility to put this into practice for future projects and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Fulfilling the commitments of the Paris Agreement provides Asia and Europe with countless opportunities to invent new and better ways to produce, consume, invest and trade, in full synergy with the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. Sustainability assessment must include all aspects: economic viability, fiscal sustainability, climate and environment-friendly and social sustainability.
14. Multilateral banks, like the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank or the World Bank, have decades of experience in Eurasia and know what works and what does not. Their experience makes them an invaluable partner for new institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in designing and implementing connectivity networks.
15. Fruitful and efficient co-operation between Asia and Europe could also benefit social and economic development in partner countries in Africa.
16. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should remain true to the tenet "benefits for all". This applies not only to countries, but also to economic operators from all sides who should feel that their interests are protected and that they have a fair chance to compete for business through open, transparent and non-discriminatory procurement procedures.
17. A level-playing field for trade and investment based on full adherence to market rules and international norms is a critical condition if we want to maintain the political momentum for better connectivity in Asia and between Europe and Asia – and reap the full benefits.