The difficulty is that Central Asian states’ access to world markets depends on transit through the territory of third countries. High transportation costs, limited access to international markets, and poor transport connectivity within the region itself act as constraints to sustainable socio-economic development in the region. According to the UNESCAP Transport Connectivity Index (UNESCAP, 2019) and the LPI Logistics Performance Index, all Central Asian states still lag behind developed countries. The three main challenges historically associated with transport development in Central Asia are infrastructure fragmentation, landscape, and lack of financial resources for transport infrastructure development.
Despite these challenges, the region has made significant progress over the past two decades in building and modernizing its transport infrastructure, including the Asian Highways (AH) and Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) networks. The volume of passenger and freight transportation has increased significantly, as well as transport accessibility for the population.
A significant transit flow of containers has already been attracted by transport corridors along the «East-West» axis that runs through Central Asia. For the period from 2014 to 2021, the quantity of container trains from China to Europe in transit increased more than 50-fold, and traffic in the reverse direction is also growing. In the long term, the aggregate railway container flow along the China-EEU-EU axis could reach up to 2 million TEUs per year.
The second axis, «North-South» is as much important. The active interaction of Central Asian countries with India, Iran, Afghanistan, as well as increase of other countries’ activities on the «North-South» ITC on development of transit and multimodal corridors is an impulse to increase the importance of transport routes on the axis.
The Eurasian transport corridor provides an opportunity to link ITCs passing through Central Asia, and thus creates multivariate logistics opportunities for the countries of the region.
International programs and initiatives to improve trade and transport connectivity play a significant role in the development of transport and trade and economic cooperation in Central Asia. International projects include CAREC, UN SPECA program, the international transport corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA), «One Belt One Road», as well as projects funded by India, Japan (JICA), Germany (GIZ), USA (USAID) and other countries.
For the harmonious development of the region simultaneously with upgrading and expanding the transport infrastructure, the Central Asian countries should direct significant efforts toward harmonizing transport regulations and simplifying border crossing procedures — optimizing the «soft» (intangible) infrastructure. Digitalization of transport and logistics processes is an important area for development. Increased use of technology will ensure «seamless» transportation.