ECO Vision 2025 envisages increased intra and inter-regional trade

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ISLAMABAD, March 1 (APP): The Economic Cooperation Organization
(ECO) will pave the way to a territory of integrated and sustainable economies as well as free trade area achieved by highly educated
societies and improved governance through enhanced cooperation.
According to the ECO Vision-2025 document released here Wednesday
on the conclusion of the 13th ECO Summit, it was decided that the ECO
would be recognized as a regional group/partner in the global environment community.
The member states resolved to expand project based economic activities and develop and strengthen the ECO institutions, enabling them to play a proactive role in realizing the objectives of the Organization and implementing the Vision.
Implementing the guiding policy document – Vision 2025, the
ECO body would ensure that regional mechanisms/frameworks are in place
to support education, training, vocational needs and other capacity enhancement requirements of the peoples/entities of the member countries, besides higher food security and safety.
It was also agreed that cooperation, focusing on non-communicable diseases as well as universal health coverage system, would be encouraged
in the member countries and environmental sustainability of the region
would be supported through environmentally friendly regional economic and social cooperation.
Regional projects in climate/biodiversity areas through partnership with relevant international stakeholders with available regional and global funding will be implemented, the document stated.
It was decided that a regional integrated disaster risk reduction system/network would be established with the ultimate aim of preventing
and reducing disaster losses in lives, and in social, economic, and environmental assets of people of ECO member countries.
It was also decided to develop regional law enforcement and police organizations/mechanisms to coordinate and support national and international efforts to combat illegal drugs and human trafficking
and other trans-regional organized crime.

Acknowledging that any long term benefits to the peoples of the
region through social and economic programmes depend on long term sustainable progress, the ECO member countries expressed their
resolve to support the global efforts aimed at addressing the challenges facing the international community.
The document stated that member countries shared the goals and
targets defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015 as enshrined in its outcome document “Transforming our
world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
“In doing so, we will give priority to the immediate needs and concerns of our region and its peoples as identified in this Vision,” the
document said, adding that the ECO in that regard would welcome
partnerships with the relevant international and regional organizations.
It was noted that there was strong interdependence between peace and development, and the ECO document reiterated firm belief of the members
that peace and stability were essential for realizing the genuine goals of sustained economic growth, sustainable development and welfare of member countries and peoples.
The document said,”We recommit ourselves to continue supporting the national, regional and global efforts for assisting Afghanistan in its attempt to achieve lasting peace and prosperity.
“We are now a region representing a combined population of over 440 million people and have achieved noteworthy results in the economic
field, such as increasing economic growth and reducing poverty as well as increased trade and investment flows over the past years.”
Through mutual efforts undertaken, it stated necessary steps towards
the socio-economic development of the region would be ensured which would help achieve prosperity of the peoples and steady improvement in their lives. “We resolve to build upon these achievements and intensify our efforts to achieve the common goals.”
Representing a diverse membership and equipped with vast natural and human resources that can contribute immensely to the generation of
economic activity in the region, the ECO acknowledged that the deep-rooted historical and cultural affinities were an important factor in fostering a sense of regional integration and cooperation, which can be strengthened through policy approximation in the selected priority areas.The document said conducive economic environment in the region
was a pre requisite for stimulating national economies of the member countries, boosting intra regional cooperation and integration into the global economy.
“ECO would ensure favorable environment in the region and take
tangible steps to enable its people to utilize their abilities with vigour in pursuit of innovation, production and job creation, which are important components of our endeavours to make ECO an integrated and sustainable region,” it added.
The enabling and conducive environment for regional cooperation, it
maintained, would be achieved through adhering to the principles of equality, equity, mutual benefits and transparency.
To materialise the enhanced regional cooperation for economic
growth and development in line with this Vision, it was decided to
develop and implement strategies during the next decade in Trade,
Transport and Connectivity, Energy, Tourism, Economic Growth and Productivity, Social Welfare and Environment.
As trade continued to be the engine of economic development and an instrument for socio economic integration, the document noted that
expanding trade volumes was the need of hour for ECO.
It noted that in 2015 the global ECO trade reached US$ 648 billion. This included exports of US$ 285 billion and imports of US$ 363 billion.
ECO was a net importer from the world with a negative trade balance of
US$ 78 billion. A large part of that could be diverted to ECO countries
if ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) was operationalized, the document pointed out.
The document, however, noted that in 2015 the total intra ECO trade
was US$ 58 billion which, at 9 per cent, was far below its true potential.
Expanding trade volumes, it noted, “requires trade liberalisation, harmonisation of policies, reducing the cost of doing business, financial infrastructure, and institutional capacity building.”
Harmonization of national policies, the document said, was important for free flow of trade as “harmonization creates compatibilities,
maximizes economic efficiency and reduces transaction costs.” Trade facilitation is another area of focus for ECO, as it reduces indirect as well as hidden costs, which is substantially high in ECO region, it
stated.
The document envisioned to operationalize the ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA), besides increasing its membership. The scope of ECOTA would
be enhanced from preferential trade to Free trade Agreement. It was also decided to assist the non WTO member countries in their accession to WTO (World Trade Organization).
ECO Agreement on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters would be operationalized like ECO Agreement on Joint Promotional Activities, ECO Trade Facilitation Agreement, Regional Agreement on Cooperation in Taxation Matters and ECO Visa Sticker Scheme for businessmen.
It was also decided that ECO Reinsurance Company would be operationalized while the role of ECO Bank would be strengthened in the development of ECO economies and its membership would be expanded.
Capacity building programmes for trade promotion organizations of the member countries will be prepared and executed, the document stated.
It was also decided to hold regional trade exhibitions and fairs in member countries, besides launching a robust trade financing programme for enhancing regional trade.It was decided to maximize connectivity, mobility and accessibility
by making major ECO transport corridors commercially viable and operational and contribute to achieve goals of information society in the region.
Transport, mobility and connectivity shall increasingly play a
critical role in ensuring regional development, prosperity, social well being, cohesiveness and realization of the Information Society,
the document said.
It pointed out that there was a compelling need to cooperate on fundamental transit related policy issues through increasing efficiency, creating a more harmonized and simplified legal and administrative
framework by means of facilitating accession to and implementation of
major international conventions/agreements, aimed at simplifying
procedures for movement of peoples and goods across the region and
beyond, in an efficient way.
It also called for full implementation of the Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA); facilitating regular and commercially
justified operation of ECO corridors / routes, and modernization of
border crossing points.
The unique challenges faced by the seven landlocked
member countries of the ECO needed to be given paramount attention by providing them efficient and cost effective transit access, it said.
The document stated that simplified visa and consular procedures
for transit related activities and regionally or globally accepted
insurance system would be activated in line with TTFA.
It was decided to develop and implement “ECO Regional ICT Strategy
for Information Society Development” and “ECO Regional Strategy for Broad band Development” to increase access to affordable broadband,
removal of monopolies, maximizing competitiveness through strengthening private sector in provision of ICT related services.
In the energy sector, the document stated that the energy demand
would grow in pace with the socio economic development of ECO member countries, requiring adequate, efficient, equitable and affordable provision of energy resources and services. In that connection it was imperative to develop and consolidate common efforts to ensure regional energy sustainability and resilience, in line with the Global Sustainable Development Goals and in coherence with other energy related activities and projections envisaged in this Vision.
It was also decided to put a supportive policy environment which
should include, among others, broad political consensus and involvement of all stakeholders from public and private sectors. Identification of energy mix is the independent decision of countries according to their national circumstances and priorities, it noted.
The Vision 2025 envisioned harmonizing and alignment towards regional power / electricity market within the ECO region for harnessing benefits of larger integrated systems. Energy trade, production, consumption and transit patterns will be enhanced, enhanced policy coherence for mainstreaming objectives of the SDGs and “UN sustainable energy for all” would be encouraged and ECO member countries would be encouraged for deployment of environmental friendly energy technologies in order to mitigate adverse environmental footprints of the energy transfer and
trade. The ECO countries, under the Vision, would be encouraged for
clean utilization of their resources.

The document aimed at increasing standard of living, quality of
life, economic welfare and well being of people through adopting social protection and environment preservation policies in the region, pointed
out the need of more diverse and resilient energy architecture in the
region that should be supported through transformation to renewable, as well as cleaner and sustainable energy sources. ECO Clean Energy Centre would be established.
It noted that the ECO region with an area of more than 8 million
square kilometers stretching from central to south and to south west Asia and a population of around 440 million inhabitants was well known for its natural beauty, as well as diversity of its historical cultural heritage.
In that respect, the Vision 2025 stated that the region had a
significant potential to be one of the major tourism destinations in the world.
To utilize the great potential of the region, it was suggested to diversify and make available the quality services with ease in procedures. In this regard, it was agreed that the ECO Tourism brand through effective mediums at the regional, national and international levels would be strengthened in order to attract first time and repeat visitors.
It was also decided to revive Silk Road tourism through cooperation
with the international community and relevant organizations.
The document noted to ensure visa facilitation for the citizens of
the region; diversification of various tourism niches including; health/medical, ecological, culture, winter, sea, mountain sports,
climbing, skiing, desert and religious.
In tourism promotional activities, utilization of electronic media would be increased and tourism related human resource development and capacity building activities would be promoted in the process, the
document added.
It was decided to set up “standardization and accreditation bodies”
and “sustainable and green tourism” monitoring mechanisms and
collaboration with international tourism bodies would be improved.
To achieve long term high level growth, the Vision stated, knowledge
and information based production through increased contribution of research and development (R&D), entrepreneurship, involvement of private sector, increased women participation and SMEs would be ensured.
The document acknowledged that agriculture and industry were the
key sectors which can boost economic growth of the region through increasing productivity. In 2001 seven out of ten ECO member countries were low income food deficit countries whereas the number decreased to four in 2015. In 2015, number of under nourished people in the region was about 53 million, almost 12% of the total population.
The battle to end hunger and poverty must be principally fought in
rural areas, where half of the ECO population and the most hungry and poor live, it noted. To eradicate hunger required a combination of pro poor investments in sustainable agriculture, rural development and social protection measures to lift people out of chronic undernourishment and poverty, it added.
The ducument said immediate steps were required to increase volumes, improve quality and decrease cost of production to satisfy the regional demand for food. That could be realized by, increased agricultural productivity via transferring and changing agro technology, cooperating
on agricultural research and extension, implementing right agro policy reforms, increasing human capital productivity in the rural areas,
optimum usage of natural resources (especially water) and benefitting from international trade in the ECO region, it stated.
Industry, the document noted, was one of the main drivers which bring nations to more prosperous and sustainable futures. The extent of
industrial and technological development particularly in the hi tech
arena was very limited thus requiring particular attention.
Prevalence of natural and economic human resource, it said, was among the advantages that makes investment in industries, affordable and cost effective. However, it noted, different factors particularly lack of
optimum knowledge of regional capacities, ambiguous regulations and fluctuating/complicated procedures are impeding factors in industrial development.
The document said absence of national strategic policies toward an effective regional cooperation, ambiguity in defining the targets and objectives, skewed financing and non involvement of women, lack of proper connectivity, regional sub quality infrastructure and insufficient
capacity of for high tech and new technologies were among the deficiencies for a rapid and cohesive industrial cooperation among the member countries.
Industrial paradigm of the ECO region, it said, needed to be readjusted as far as possible to contribute to the growth and productivity while meeting the SDG’s through adoption of relevant “standards and criteria”
and “establishment and enhancement of quality infrastructure”
in the region.
The Vision document stated that promoting investment and attracting foreign capital were the key policies to help introduce new technologies
and competencies in the ECO region. However it required investment
friendly climate and business environment.
In this context, the document suggested to attracting foreign direct investment that would be crucial to boost region’s economic development by generating employment, developing human resources, “allowing resource and technology transfer” and “increasing productivity and innovation”.
It underlined the need to generate the agriculture trade related risk maps (abrupt price and supply changes because of trade and weather conditions) based on studies and analysis.