Pakistan to make ECO a powerful economic bloc, engine of growth

  • PM says Pakistan has political stability, infrastructure to achieve common vision
  • Nawaz reiterates commitment to a peaceful neighbourhood, points out sufferings of Kashmiri people

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, as elected chairman of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), has said that Pakistan had the location, political stability, and increasing physical infrastructure to achieve common vision for making the 10-member regional group a powerful economic bloc and an engine of growth.

Addressing the inaugural session of 13th ECO Summit being hosted by Pakistan here on Wednesday, he said that it was high time for the ECO member states to make momentous advancement through better cooperation. “I believe that the ECO’s time has truly come. There has never been a more opportune time to realise our dream of connectivity for regional prosperity,” he said.

“At its heart, the ECO has always subscribed to a people-centric agenda. At this summit, we want to focus on greater connectivity and trade linkages amongst our countries, in order to deliver progress to the people of the ECO region,” Prime Minister Nawaz said. The ECO region was not an insignificant geographical area, as it represents a vast expanse of territory, he said.

“Though the region has enormous potential, and accounts for 16% of the world’s population, we generate only 2% of the world’s trade. And, trade within the ECO region is a small fraction of our trade with the rest of the world,” he noted. “These numbers are not commensurate with what we could achieve through greater integration and connectivity. They are also at variance with our rich historical legacy,” he said.

“This region was once synonymous with the fabled Silk Road. It was a melting pot of civilizations; a conduit for trade and commerce, as well as a corridor for culture and ideas. We are the proud heirs of Al-Beruni, Farabi, Saadi, Rumi and Allama Iqbal, to name just a few of our glorious ancestors,” he added. “It is now time for us to reclaim our historic role as Asia’s center of economic and trade activity,” he said.

“Theme of this summit – Connectivity for Regional Prosperity – is both inspired by our shared past and evidence of our commitment to a future of shared prosperity,” he said. He said that the ECO could be an example of regional cooperation, which touched upon and enriched the lives of our peoples. “What makes the theme especially relevant is that more countries in the region are already making large investments in connectivity projects,” he pointed out.

The prime minister said that Central Asia was fast emerging as a Trans-Eurasian land bridge, oil and gas pipelines across deserts and mountains were linking their markets, while railroad networks were harbingers of their commitment to connectivity. “But we can and should achieve even more, by pooling together our individual efforts for greater synergy. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts,” he added.

“Perhaps no project better symbolises Pakistan’s conception of win-win cooperation through connectivity than the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It is gratifying that CPEC is now being recognised as a catalyst for energy infrastructure, transport connectivity and trade in the whole of South and Central Asia,” he said. “And why stop at just energy, or transport, or trade? We can and we must strive for loftier goals. Cooperation across a vast spectrum of areas – in agriculture, in culture, in education, and in science and technology – should all be on our agenda,” he said.

After all, the Silk Road provided a medium for exchange of knowledge, as much as of goods, the prime minister stressed. He said that Pakistan’s strategic location at the crossroads of the Middle East has always been prized for South Asia, Central Asia and its economic potential. “The current performance of Pakistan’s economy is living up to its promise,” he said.

“We need to work on streamlining our institutional mechanisms. The ECO Trade Agreement needs to be operationalised, while respecting and accommodating each member states’ interests and concerns,” he said. He also said that a meaningful trade in the region cannot take place without better cooperation on transport infrastructure among the member states. He also said that the Vision 2025 provided a realistic and achievable roadmap for accelerating economic integration.

The prime minister said that it was an honour for Pakistan to host the 13th summit of the ECO and to assume the chair of this important regional organisation. He appreciated President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan for ably steering the ECO since the 2012 summit in Baku. He also thanked ECO Secretary General Halil Ibrahim Acka and the entire ECO Secretariat, for the support they had extended in making this summit a success.

In his concluding remarks prior to adjourning the meeting, the prime minister thanked all the delegates including heads of the state and government, observers and special guests for their valuable contribution and thought in the meeting. He said the insightful comments and thought provoking views of the participants had indeed added value to the deliberations. Being a founding ECO member, Pakistan was committed to the ECO objectives, he said.

The prime minister said that peace was essential for sustainable development and underscored the importance of solidarity within Islamic world to address the challenges that confront the adherence of Islam. Nawaz reiterated his government’s commitment to a peaceful neighbourhood and said the peaceful settlement of longstanding disputes like Jammu Kashmir and alleviating the sufferings of the Kashmiri people would greatly help in advancing the goals of stability and development of the entire region.

Prime Minister Sharif said it was the active participation by the members manifested their desire and commitment to transform the ECO into a vibrant regional bloc. It was a testament to Pakistan’s commitment to act as a harbinger of positive changes and meaningful development in the region, the prime minister said. He hoped that the member states would continue to work in harmony for the continued prosperity of the people of the region.