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TEXT: I extend a warm welcome to Parliamentarians and delegates from the ECO member states at the Second General Conference of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Economic Cooperation Organization (PAECO) being held in Islamabad to deliberate on the imperative theme of “Promoting Parliamentary Partnership for Regional Integration". The Conference comes at an appropriate time when our region needs a holistic and collaborative approach towards prosperity and welfare of the people, particularly in view of the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic.

I appreciate Mr. Asad Qaiser, Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan, for taking this significant initiative towards regional cooperation at a time when the UN member states had already pledged to begin 2020 as a “Decade of Action” by accelerating efforts and finding long-term solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. The post Covid-19 scenario significantly altered the core focus of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and progress in several areas of the SDGs is likely to be reversed.

Our regional integration requires strategic joint endeavours to allow flow of goods, services, capital, people and ideas gradually through a step-by-step approach. Yet, the slow pace at which regional agreements and programs are being implemented is affecting citizens' quality of life and restricts our collective ability to achieve a fully integrated region in line with the ECO Vision 2025. This situation necessitates a constructive parliamentary approach to regional integration issues including strengthening parliamentary linkages to deal with regional cooperation; building networks for accelerated SDGs' implementation; promoting functional on ground progress in the areas of trade, transport, advanced connectivity and tourism.

The establishment of the PAECO Parliamentary Assembly in 2013, as well as an impressive participation by member states in this Conference, demonstrate our shared commitment to taking our existing mutual cooperation to the next level in order to achieve our common goals of socioeconomic development.

I am confident that the Second General PAECO Conference will prove to be a defining moment towards making this Parliamentary forum fully operational by ratifying its Charter, identifying a viable roadmap for the respective governments of all ECO member states' formulating target-oriented policy and implementational steps for enhancing open trade and commerce, developing connectivity through road, air and rail in addition to reiterating our strategic resolve to advance tourism for sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

I am confident that Parliamentary dialogue among members of Parliaments at this important Conference would also help bring the most pressing issues to the forefront of discussions, and encourage more attention as well as resources by respective governments to be devoted for transforming the region's future.

I wish the participants a memorable stay in Pakistan and fruitful participation in the conference.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021