Istanbul, 29 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The three-day, 'Crossroads of The World Conference,' presented by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) ends today in Istanbul, Turkey. The meeting, being hosted by Turkey in cooperation with the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Energy, State and Transportation, focused on the Black Sea, Caucasus and Central Asia regions - areas now being referred to as "the energy world's latest frontier." There was particular emphasis on the Caspian Sea.
Co-sponsors of the event included the American Road and Transportation Builders' Association, the American-Turkish Council, The Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Board, the Edison Electric Institute, the Greater Houston Partnership, the National Mining Association and the U.S. Energy Association.
With more that 700 visiting delegates, political leaders, and business executives in attendance, the conference provided a unique opportunity to discuss some of the more than 65 projects in oil and gas, mining and minerals, electric power and transportation sectors; projects with an estimated value of $20 billion. Also addressed were the needs of the region, and how they can be matched with the skills, equipment, and experience of American companies.
The fourteen countries on which the conference focused were: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldavia, Romania, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
J. Joseph Grandmaison, Director of the United States Trade and Development Agency called the list of projects underway "some of the most exciting business opportunities in the world today."
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which works to foster mutually beneficial partnerships between U.S. firms and infrastructure project sponsors in developing and middle-income development countries, views this region with increased optimism. Washington believes the region's potential is based on the immense untapped natural resources there, as well as the increasing demand for new infrastructure to extract it.
And, while a variety of different projects were presented at the this week's conference, it was the Caspian Sea which appeared to be the focus of everyone's attention. In a speech by U.S. Senator , chairman of the, who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Policy, Export and Trade Promotion, he called the Caspian Sea, "the one project that has fired the imagination of the entire region - indeed the entire world." He went on to say, "the Caspian Sea basin contains the world's greatest reserves of oil and gas outside of the Persian Gulf. But, unlike every other major petroleum discovery, the resources have no easy access to the sea, and, therefore, no easy access to the world markets." "The growth and development of this area's infrastructure, along with the economic and political stability of the region, are important to U.S. interests." Senator Hagel concluded, "this is more than just an infrastructure project - this is about building and strengthening regional economic cooperation and understanding."
U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Pena, speaking at the conference, announced the establishment of the new Caspian Sea Initiative, an organization that brings together, for the first time, the heads of the American government's three independent trade and investment agencies - EXIM, OPIC, and the TDA. Such an initiative is aimed at coordinating the development and support of opportunities in the Caspian region. Pena said, "The participation of all three agency heads for the first time at one conference is indicative of the priority the United States government has placed on the effort. While these agencies have always worked closely together, our new Caspian Sea Initiative organizes these individual efforts to make them more effective." Pena went on to explain Washington's policy, which he said is to promote "the development of multiple pipelines and diversified infrastructure networks to integrate these countries into the global market, to provide countries of the region with alternative energy supplies and transportation routes, and to foster the regional cooperation needed for peace and stability."
With regard to Iran, Pena went on to make clear that the U.S opposition to building a pipeline through Iran has not changed, saying "we will continue to oppose such lines and to support alternate non-Iranian routes for the export of Caspian energy resources."
While 'The Crossroad Conference' concludes today, there will undoubtedly be even further interest in the "energy world's latest frontier" as a result. Observers say the presentation of these projects, coupled with the opportunity for U.S. executives to meet the key decision makers from the 14 countries represented, has given participants a better understanding of what is needed to make these projects succeed.