ISLAMABAD: Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Tuesday said that Pakistan being the founding member remains strongly committed to our common goal to raise the quality of life of the people of the Economic Cooperation Organization ( ECO) Region through greater connectivity, expansion of intra and inter regional trade, and removal of trade barriers.
Addressing the 22nd Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Council of Ministers Meeting (COM) here, he said that ECO has the potential to bring economic prosperity and progress to the region. He said for the ECO region that stretches from the Himalayas in the East to the West of Dardanelles and from the Arabian Sea in the South to Russian Urals and Siberia in the North, the concept of Regional Connectivity offers immense potential for progress, prosperity and development of its 450 million people. Today, our traditional friendship and cooperation provide a solid plank for undertaking new initiatives and programmes to realize the ECO vision, he added.
This year, he said “we also celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the expansion of ECO in 1992, when seven new members joined the Organization. Accordingly, Pakistan is hosting the 22ndÂ ECO Summit on the theme of “Connectivity for Prosperity”. As envisaged in the Draft ECO Vision 2025, “we need to collectively work towards realizing the three long-term sectoral priorities of ECO: (i) Development of transport and communication infrastructure; (ii) Facilitation of trade and investment; and (iii) Effective use of the region’s vast energy resources”.
Sartaj Aziz said though ECO countries have achieved substantial results in the past, but “we have a long way to go in realizing our shared vision of an integrated, inter-connected and prosperous region”. The long-term prospects of ECO depend on renewing the necessary political will of all member states and to find common ground in promoting effective regional cooperation and on establishment of efficient and effective institutions that can transfer actual benefits to all member states.
Global peace, stability and prosperity, he said cannot be achieved in silos in the inter-connected world of today. Our region is faced with a number of challenges including extremism, terrorism, drug-trafficking and trans-national organized crimes, he added.
Similarly, he maintained natural disasters and environmental hazards are putting extra strain on economic progress of the states. Therefore, he added innovative approaches and concerted efforts would be required for the socio-economic and human development of our peoples.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said the ECO region, due to its vast natural and human resources, has the potential to become a formidable economic block. However, there are certain priority areas which need immediate attention, he added. Counting the priority areas, he said that the implementation of ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) is essential in order to remove the existing trade and non-trade barriers and establishment of a Free Trade Area in the ECO region. Although ECOTA entered into force in 2008, some member states still have reservations on some aspect.
Substantiating his pleas he said said the trade figures of ECO reflect a dismal picture of a region that is one of the least integrated in the world, operating far below its potential, as compared to regional blocs such as ASEAN and NAFTA.
Lack of regional connectivity and integration of infrastructure is one of the major impediments, he said. Also important is the ongoing work of the technical committees on Road, Railway, Insurance, Transit trade and legal issues, working under the umbrella of the ECO Transit Transport Framework Agreement (ECO-TTFA), he pointed out. “We have to identify and remove major barriers hampering smooth movement of goods across the region”, he stressed. The member states need to focus on the corridor – based approach for greater connectivity between different corridors, where feasible for efficient movement of goods, he suggested. For efficient and accelerated activity, he said ECO’s Specialised Agencies, Associations and affiliated bodies which can complement the activities of our organizations and promote greater economic and cultural integration should be given due attention In this regard, he said the membership should be increased besides widening scope and activities of ECO Trade and Development Bank for subsequent enhancement of intra-regional trade and connectivity. The Bank can serve as an EXIM Bank for the member states to support trade and development activities within the region, he added.
He also advocated the need to increase the membership and ratification of ECO Re-Insurance Company so that the company becomes operational and contributes towards enhanced trade activities besides enhancing cooperation between public and private sectors of member states through ECO Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He also stressed to increase membership and ratification of ECO Science foundation to promote scientific, techonological and innovative research collaboration among member states and to enhance economic development in the region.
About the ECO Cultural Institute, he underlined the need to enhance membership and its ratification for developing, understanding and promoting closer cooperation among the people of member states in the field of culture, literature and art. Sartaj Aziz also underlined the need to use the platform of Parliamentary Assembly of ECO to promote the democratic values among member states.
Talking about the state of economy, Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan has accelerated its economic growth from an average of 3% in 2007-2012 to 4.7% in the last four years. The priority goal of the government has been economic development, as an important pre-requisite for achieving peace and stability he said adding that all macro-economic indicators are looking up which has raised the investors confidence in the country. Pakistan was taking serious steps to upgrade road infrastructure in order to facilitate smooth flow of goods with our neighhours. “We are confident that China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would galvanize trade opportunities with the ECO region. Pakistan has also launched Integrated Transit Trade Management System to revamp the transport infrastructure”, he added. We have also made good progress in combating the scourge of terrorism and extremism through a comprehensive strategy of law enforcement and targeted military operations. We are therefore confident of providing safe transit passage for smooth flow of trade activities without any barriers”, he said.
He said that the ECO region is poised for economic prosperity, peace and stability through enhanced regional connectivity, greater integration and removal of trade barriers. Greater connectivity among the Member States through rail, road, sea and air linkages will act as a catalyst to boost intra-region trade, he added. The ECO region can benefit from the CPEC and Gwadar port as it would bring down the cost and time of transportation considerably, he said adding, “Let us all work towards transforming the ECO region to a formidable economic block and realise the vision of our leadership by using the full potential of our natural and human resources”. He also expressed his deep appreciation to Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, for steering ECO with great distinction since 2012. He also acknowledged and appreciated Secretary General ECO, Halil Ibrahim Acka and his team for their hard work and dedication in preparing for the Summit.