ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi Sunday said despite having all elements for economic growth, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) region was among the least integrated regions in terms of trade and investment which necessitated unlocking of potential for an impetus to growth and development.
The president, addressing the 15th Summit of the Heads of State of the ECO in Ashgabat, said the intra-regional trade among ECO members was only eight percent of their total trade.
“Unlocking the potential for regional integration will provide significant impetus to growth and development in all ECO Member States… The ECO region has all the elements needed for economic integration and rapid economic growth: rich resources, enterprising people, geographical contiguity, and a common culture and heritage,” he said.
However, he said the ECO was among the least integrated regions in terms of trade, investment, finance, infrastructure, regional value chains, labour mobility and social integration. Themed ‘Into the Future Together,’ the summit was chaired by President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and attended by heads of ECO member states and Secretary-General Ambassador Khusrav Noziri.
The president viewed that in order to stay competitive, national and regional economies would have to move towards greater physical and virtual integration.
“Such integration is imperative for the ECO region. The theme you have chosen for this Summit – “Into the Future Together” – is thus most apt and timely.”
The president called for ensuring the implementation of ECO Vision 2025, and the Islamabad Declaration, a free or preferential trade arrangement; strengthening of regional institutions such as the ECO Trade and Development Bank (ETDB) and operationalisation of the ECO Reinsurance Company (ERC).
President Alvi, who reached the Turkmen capital Saturday, called advancing the transport corridors planned by the ECO under the Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA). He also welcomed the operationalisation of the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) road corridor.
Calling peace in Afghanistan as ‘key to connectivity,’ the president said after the end of the 40-year war, the country had a humanitarian crisis and the spectre of economic collapse looming large over its people.
“The increasingly deepening liquidity crisis threatens a financial and banking collapse, with serious social and security implications. We must all join in preventing such a disaster, which could revive chaos and conflict and the threat from terrorism in Afghanistan,” he commented. He said the situation could also lead to exodus of refugees from Afghanistan. For four decades, Pakistan has hosted nearly 4 million Afghan refugees.
“Frozen assets must be released to help alleviate the sufferings of the Afghan people. We must together promote economic stability and sustainability of Afghanistan as well as its early integration into the ECO and the international community.”
He said the world had witnessed the negative impact of unilateral coercive sanctions in the region and that freezing of assets and banking restrictions worsened the human suffering and entailed serious implications for regional peace, security and prosperity.
President Alvi said the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan would also enable the early implementation of agreed infrastructure and integration projects: the TAPI gas pipeline; the CASA 1000 electricity grid from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and construction of the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway line.
Recounting the economic impact of the COVID-19 with disproportionate suffering of some ECO member states having a double-digit economic contraction, the president said Pakistan had been relatively fortunate.
“Our strategy of smart lockdowns, compassion, generous social protection, and strategic economic stimulus have saved lives and livelihoods and restricted the damage to our economy.”
Mentioning the inflation triggered by COVID-related disruption in supply chains, the president said the government was providing a massive package of targeted support to cushion the impact of inflation on the vulnerable sections of our population.
He told the regional leaders that in part, the global inflation in prices had been generated by the $ 27 trillion fiscal stimulus injected by the rich countries to revive their economies. “Unfortunately, the developing countries have not been able to secure even a small fraction of the $4.3 trillion they need to recover from the COVID crisis.”
The president called upon the ECO countries to join other developing countries in promoting a common development agenda to return to the path of sustained and sustainable growth.
“As the next Chair of the Group of 77 and China, Pakistan will propose such a development agenda, including debt restructuring, redistribution of the 650 billion new SDRs to developing countries, larger concessional financing, mobilization of the $100 billion in annual climate finance by the developed countries, ending the billions in illicit financial flows from the developing countries and the return of their stolen assets, and the creation of an equitable and open trading system and a fair international tax regime,” he told the ECO leaders.
He also invited the ECO Member States - also the OIC members - to attend the next OIC Foreign Ministers Conference in Islamabad on 23rd March next year when Pakistan will celebrate 75 years of its independence.
He emphasized the ECO’s contribution to reversing the rising tide of Islamophobia creating anti-Muslim hate in Europe, North America and South Asia. The president also congratulated President Aliyev on the recovery of Azerbaijan’s territories from foreign occupation. Wishing success to Turkmenistan’s ECO chairmanship, the president said Pakistan looked forward equally to Uzbekistan as the next ECO chair.