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ECO states welcomed CPEC as catalyst for the development of the entire region

Nawaz Sharif elected as chairman ECO; stresses on strengthening of bilateral relations
Experts emphasized on effective investment promotion measures need to be adopted

While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been elected as Chairman of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) during the 13th summit held in Islamabad last week, enhanced economic cooperation and regional connectivity was advocated by the member countries.

All the ten member states including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan besides a special representative from China participated in the summit. The theme ‘Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’ assumed special significance in the backdrop of monumental project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The member states focused on intra-region and inter-regions connectivity in energy, infrastructure, transport and trade sectors. The summit also adopted Islamabad Declaration and ECO Vision 2025, approved by the council of ministers, envisaging road map for enhanced economic cooperation and connectivity. The ECO member states have reiterated their political will and strong commitment for economic development, common prosperity, regional integration and peace and stability in the ECO Region. The ECO states welcomed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a far-reaching initiative that would act as catalyst for the development of the entire region.

Analysts told PAGE that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is making all out efforts to strengthen bilateral relations with other countries in the region and this will boost the economy of our country. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes that encouraging greater private sector interaction could enhance the existing level of trade as well as bridge the imbalance in existing trade patterns.

Leading Economist Dr. Shahid Hassan Siddiqui said, “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is making all out efforts to strengthen bilateral relations with other countries in the region including China.”

According to him, Pakistan has an important strategic location. India’s claim to isolate Pakistan has failed. Pakistan has been focusing on to improve its economy. The other countries will be attracted towards Pakistan when our economy will be strengthened. “Following the principles of Quaid-e-Azam, we can make Pakistan an economic power in the world till 2030.”

Another Economist Dr. Manzoor Khan Afridi says Pakistan and Kuwait have been enjoying strong friendly relations since long and Pakistan has done a lot for prosperity and integrity of Kuwait. Kuwait has also supported Pakistan in 2005 earthquake. Both Pakistan and Kuwait should focus on improving trade volume among each other. “Kuwait should also become the part of China Pakistan Economic Corridor project. Pakistan has always played active role in resolving conflicts among Arab countries. Middle East countries have respect for Pakistan and we have strong relations with these countries,” he said.

Experts have termed Pakistan-China-Russia nexus as ‘scenario-changer’ for South Asia while China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has immense potential for all its stakeholders. They said transparency must be induced as an integral part of all CPEC projects to ensure their smooth progress. Chinese are eagerly looking ahead for this trilateral collaboration and its possible outgrowths.

Experts called for evolving a focused strategy for the promotion of trade and investment among member countries of ECO. The proposed ECO regional trade and investment strategy should be aimed at strengthening regional market, creating wealth in the region and enhancing competitiveness through increased production, value-added creation, and trade and investment inflows in the region. The components of multi-dimensional, regional trade and investment strategy must include image building, opportunity analysis, reforms and improvement in regulatory framework, investment generation, implementation of ECO key agreements, removal of constraints and barriers to FDI, special FDI incentives, facilitating linkages, SME development, industrial diversification, joint ventures, rope of IPA and ECO business council.

Experts emphasized that investment promotion measures need to be adopted within the broader framework of an overarching strategy, which covers the overall investment climate, the investment-support institutions, and investment policy and package. The success of the strategy also depends a lot on strong political commitment and leadership. Since, foreign trade and investment plays a vital role in economic development, one of the objectives of ECO – as embodied in the ‘Treaty of Izmir’ – is to take measures towards progressive removal of trade barriers within ECO region and expansion of intra and inter-regional trade. However, ECO remains one of the least integrated regions in the world and has a low share in global trade and investment, it was felt.

In order to increase the level of intra-ECO trade and investment as well as increase the share of ECO in global trade and investment inflows, it is essential that member countries adopt liberal trade and investment policies and put in place the right institutional mechanism. There is also a need for creating greater awareness among the stakeholders in the region about the need for trade and investment liberalization and specify benchmarks and timeframe to measure progress for tangible results.

There is a need for doubling intra-regional trade in the next five years and promoting connectivity. The successful holding of the summit is a manifestation of the desire and commitment of the member states to transform the ECO into a vibrant regional bloc, however, member states need to pursue liberal economic policies for the economic uplift of the member countries in particular and region in general.

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