Interview with Mr Muhammad Farooq Afzal — President/CEO of ITN Group of Companies
Mr Muhammad Farooq Afzal belongs to Hyderabad, Sindh and after his B.Com in 1983, he moved to Karachi for Chartered Accountancy and after articleship did his Master’s degree in Business Management from Philippines in 1989. He is also a Doctor of Homeopathic Medicine. He is a professional in the realm of textile sourcing and exports. Having worked for over 12 years with the leading textile companies in Pakistan, he started his own business in 2001 and established Integrated Textiles Network – textile buying house- and since then pursuing his entrepreneurial ambitions locally and internationally. He expanded his business and opened up his marketing offices in Bangladesh, USA and Russia. Then he started diversification and established a towel manufacturing and export company, IT Software House, a tourism and event management company and now he is the President/CEO of ITN Group of Companies. He along with his team has been successfully organizing textile exhibition in Moscow, Russia twice a year as an exclusive representative of ‘TextilExpo JSC’, Russia in Pakistan and had successfully introduced over 120 Pakistani textile companies in Russia since 2004. He can also be called as a pioneer in opening Russian textile market for Pakistani exporters. He is the Chairman of Pak-Russia Business Council of FPCCI, Founder President of Diplomatic Forum International, Founder President of ECO Friendship and Trade Forum, Life Member of: SAARC Chamber, Karachi Council on Foreign Relations and English Speaking Union of Pakistan.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE 13TH SUMMIT OF THE ECONOMIC COOPERATION ORGANIZATION (ECO)?
MUHAMMAD FAROOQ AFZAL: I think holding of the 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit was a great success for Pakistan in particular and all the ECO member states in general. The outcome of the summit was so positive and we must appreciate Pakistan’s diplomacy in pursuing the goal of shared prosperity through intensified regional economic cooperation and connectivity under the prevailing global politico-economic situation.
Though our enemy conspired and tried to create a sense of insecurity both for the summit but government took the challenge head on and made the negative efforts of or enemy failed. The summit was so important that all ECO states were represented at head of the state or government level except Afghanistan, which I believe has done no service to itself distancing from a highly impressive and productive event that would have also afforded an opportunity for sorting out differences that are currently affecting smooth relationship between Islamabad and Kabul.
Anyhow, the summit itself would go down as a remarkable moot as it not only adopted a comprehensive Islamabad Declaration but also ECO Vision-2025 delineating 10-year roadmap for economic cooperation and regional connectivity. If everything goes well in coming years the region would be woven by a network of rail and road linkages besides sea routes and energy, trade corridors.
Pakistan and China are already implementing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the project can be expanded with inclusion of ECO member states either individually or collectively under a well chalked out framework. Pakistan has rightly emphasized the need for intensified trade and economic interaction and hopefully this dream can be realized with completion of the CPEC and other connectivity projects under the ECO umbrella.
PAGE: DO YOU THINK THE 13TH SUMMIT OF THE ECONOMIC COOPERATION ORGANIZATION (ECO) WOULD HELP IN DOUBLING INTRA-REGIONAL TRADE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
MUHAMMAD FAROOQ AFZAL: This will never happen until or unless all the countries sign a multilateral trade agreement i.e. FTA. ECO members must prefer trade over politics. We need to open our respective markets like EU. ECO countries consist of about $5 trillion Consumer GDP (PPP) market and surprisingly Pakistan’s trade with all other nine countries is about $3 billion? Out of this our bilateral trade with Afghanistan is about $2.4 billion. Now you can imagine that how much trade activities we have with large countries in ECO like Turkey and Iran?
This is really an unfortunate on our part that our government and private sector did not and do not take any interest in the promotion of trade among the ECO countries. ECO must form a task committee consisting of one technocrat member from each country to work on FTA among all the countries and then to monitor the trade activities in the light of the singed agreement. All seven land locked countries i.e. Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan can take the advantages of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor thru road and rail connectivity to reach at the Gwadar and Karachi ports for their trade activities with the rest of the world.
PAGE: THE SUMMIT ADOPTED ISLAMABAD DECLARATION AND VISION 2025. THE DECLARATION CALLS FOR DEVELOPMENT OF TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATION INFRASTRUCTURE, FACILITATION OF TRADE AND INVESTMENT, PROMOTION OF CONNECTIVITY WITH OTHER REGIONS, EFFECTIVE USE OF ENERGY RESOURCES AND UNDERTAKING MEASURES FOR MAKING THE ECO EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT. VISION 2025 UNDERSCORES PROMOTION OF COOPERATION AMONG MEMBER STATES. YOUR VIEWS:
MUHAMMAD FAROOQ AFZAL: Well as stated earlier by the Foreign Office that ECO Vision 2025 is a ‘route map’ for members, and the Islamabad Declaration is ‘an agenda for regional peace. Now there is need of ECO members’ political will and strong commitment for realizing the aims and objectives of the Organization for economic development, common prosperity, regional integration and peace and stability in the ECO region.
I think that if Vision 2025 is implemented religiously as it has been laid down then there is no power on the earth who can stop this region to prosper and to become the affluent economic part of the world.
I would again emphasize that in order to get it implemented ECO members must form a technocrat committee who should monitor closely for the implementation and to achieve the set goals of the Vision 2025 in its given time frame. We all should also get ready for any kind of sabotage from our enemy country and other unhappy powers of the world to make this ECO failure and for that there is great need of the unity among the ECO members.
PAGE: THE SUMMIT CRITICIZED TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS AND ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON IT?
MUHAMMAD FAROOQ AFZAL: I think that summit did the right thing to criticize travel restrictions and economic sanctions against Iran. We all should stand against the hegemony of one power of the world. Every country has right of self defense and must do whatever is appropriate. Based on nuclear activities putting travel restrictions and economic sanctions is absurd. I suggest that all ECO countries must also form a defense treaty like NATO for the region.
PAGE: FACTORS RESTRICTING TRADE IN THE REGION INCLUDE DIFFERENCES IN ECONOMIC SYSTEMS, LOGISTIC CONSTRAINTS DUE TO INADEQUATE TRANSPORT LINKAGES AND PROBLEMS WITH BANKING TRANSACTIONS. THE ECOTA WAS SIGNED IN JULY 2003 BUT HAS NOT BEEN IMPLEMENTED AS YET BECAUSE HALF OF THE MEMBERS ARE STILL TO ACCEDE TO IT. THE AGREEMENT IS AIMED AT REMOVING TRADE BARRIERS FOR INTRA-REGIONAL TRADE. YOUR VIEWS:
MUHAMMAD FAROOQ AFZAL: Well, we must understand that conducive economic environment in the region is a pre-requisite for stimulating national economies of the member countries, boosting intra-regional cooperation and integration into the global economy. To materialize the enhanced regional cooperation for economic growth and development in line with this Vision 2025, ECO members have shown their determination to develop and implement strategies in the areas: Transport and connectivity, energy , tourism, economic growth and productivity and social welfare and environment.
I am sure that with the supplement of Vision 2025, ECOTA will be implemented now as all the countries have now realized the importance of this forum and under the prevailing politico-economic situation of the world will bring ECO members more closely and this would certainly help to boost all the activities as I mentioned above.
I take this opportunity to suggest ECO members to expand the canvas of the Forum and we must add Russia and China as member of the ECO. This will make a very big and very important economic alliance in the world and after that we must not care about any restrictions and economic sanctions imposed on us by any power of the world.