ISLAMABAD, Mar 1 (APP): Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif Wednesday said that it was high time for the member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to make momentous advancement through better cooperation.
“I believe that the ECO’s time has truly come. It is primed to make momentous advancement. There has never been a more opportune time to realize our dream of `Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’,” he said while addressing the inaugural session of 13th ECO Summit being hosted by Pakistan.
With eight heads of state and government present in the Summit all the 10 ECO member states including Pakistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were participating in the Summit.
Prime Minister Sharif, who was earlier elected Chairman of the 13th ECO Summit, said Pakistan had the location, political stability, and, now increasingly, the physical infrastructure to achieve our common vision for making ECO a powerful economic bloc and an engine of growth.
Prime Minister Sharif said as 13th Summit marked the 25th anniversary of the Organization’s expansion, it was a welcome occasion for them to renew their commitment to the ECO’s founding principles and ideals.
“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,” he added.
The Prime Minister said the ECO region was not an insignificant geographical area, adding, “it represents a vast expanse of territory that is home to nearly a sixth of all humanity.”
“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.
The Prime Minister said, “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.”
“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 Iqbal, to name just a few of our glorious ancestors,” he added.
The Prime Minister said, “it is now time for us to reclaim our historic role as Asia’s center of economic and trade activity. Thus the 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
He said 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.”
The Prime Minister said Central Asia was fast emerging as a Trans-Eurasian land bridge, adding, oil and gaspipelines 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.
The Prime Minister expressed his belief that the ECO’s time had truly come. “It was primed to make momentous advancement. There has never been a more opportune time to realize our dream of “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity,” he added.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said since assuming office in 2013, it had been the aim of his government to pursue a policy of “peaceful neighbourhood.”
“Our vision of “peace for development” has consistently guided our efforts, to help create a conducive environment in which we can all achieve our true economic and development potential,” he added.
The Prime Minister said peaceful settlement of longstanding disputes would go a long way in advancing this noble goal. “There is little doubt that as we find ways to strengthen mutual cooperation, we would be experiencing shared prosperity,” he added.
The Prime Minister said enhancing trade and promoting transport connectivity in the region and beyond, were at the core of their vision.
“Perhaps no project better symbolizes Pakistan’s conception of win-win cooperation through connectivity, than the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It is gratifying that CPEC is now being recognized as a catalyst for energy infrastructure, transport connectivity and trade in the whole
of South and Central Asia,” he added.
“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. After all, the Silk Road provided a medium for exchange of knowledge, as much as of goods,” the Prime Minister stressed.
Nawaz Sharif 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, adding, “The current performance of Pakistan’s economy is living up to its promise.”
The Prime Minister said that Pakistan’s economy has come to be acknowledged as one of the great success stories of recent years by global financial institutions and observers.
“Last year, Pakistan had the best performing stock market in South Asia and the fifth best in the world. Our economic indicators are up and pointing in the right direction. Inflation is low and GDP growth has been robust,” he added.
The Prime Minister said, “Pakistan not only boasts a consumer market of 200 million people, with a large and growing middle class, we will soon be providing easier, quicker and cheaper physical access to markets in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.”
“But returning to the theme of this Summit, Pakistan has the location, the political stability, and, now increasingly, the physical infrastructure to achieve our common vision for making ECO a powerful economic bloc and an engine of growth,” he said.
“To that end, we need to work on streamlining our institutional mechanisms. The ECO Trade Agreement needs to be operationalized, while respecting and accommodating each Member State’s interests and concerns,” he added.
Prime Minister Sharif said meaningful trade in the region cannot take place without better cooperation on transport infrastructure among member states.
“The existence of efficient trade, transit and transport corridors across the region will guarantee economic development and prosperity of our people,” he added.
Nawaz Sharif said the adoption of Islamabad Declaration and the ECO Vision 2025 during this summit would reflect the consensus and resolve of ECO member states to collectively take on the contemporary economic challenges.
“Sustained focus on the key areas identified in the Islamabad Declaration namely trade, transport and energy can lead to transformative change across the region,” he added.
The Prime Minister said Vision 2025 provided a realistic and achievable roadmap for accelerating economic integration that worked to the common good of all our people.
“Let us all strive towards transforming ECO’s enormous potential into reality. It is up to us to seize this historic opportunity and make this region a citadel of peace, progress and prosperity,” he stressed.
The Prime Minister said it was an honour for Pakistan to host the 13th Summit of the ECO and to assume the chair of this important regional organization.
He appreciated President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan for ably steering the ECO since the 2012 Summit in Baku.
The Prime Minister also thanked Secretary General ECO Halil Ibrahim Acka and the entire ECO Secretariat, for the support they had extended in making this summit a success.
“I also wish to express my gratitude to our special guests from the People’s Republic of China and the United Nations. The choice of our Special Guests has direct salience to the theme of this Summit,” he added.
“Once again, I welcome our honourable guests to Islamabad and wish them a productive and pleasant stay,” the Prime Minister concluded.
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.
He said being a founding ECO member, Pakistan was committed to the ECO objectives.
“Our summit has underscored collective desire for regional integration. CEO initiatives demand commitment and tangible actions for achieving desired goals,” he said.
He said the summit provided an opportunity to reaffirm collective commitment to progress and prosperity for the ECO region. It also allowed the members to identify new areas of cooperation while cementing the progress on matters currently under process.
The prime minister said 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 Sharif reiterated his government’s commitment to a peaceful neighborhood and said the peaceful settlement of longstanding disputes like Jammu and Kashmir and alleviating the sufferings of the Kashmiri people would greatly help in advancing the goals of stability and development of the entire region.
He believed that the ECO region had enormous potential for enhancing regional cooperation based on solid foundation of commonality of interests, economic complementaries, common cultural heritage and geographical proximity.
He said located at the crossroads of important regions, the ECO region had both the potential and capacity to function as a bridge between North and South, Europe and Asia.
Its favorable geo-economic location could be better utilized for the development and prosperity of the region, he added.
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.
Nawaz Sharif said the ECO Vision 2025 was a significant achievement which set tangible and pragmatic goals along with an implementation framework that would help to realize the priorities of the organization.
In this context, he said the members states should collectively endeavor to build and promote connectivity in multiple domains including sea, land, air and cyberspace to give further impetus to regional trade.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani while addressing the summit said the unique geo-strategic location of the region put the ECO in an ideal position. The ECO could and should play its effective role in building “our future economies”.
He said the ECO countries provided a shortest trade and transit route to Europe, which was very significant in terms of strengthening regional trade.
The Iranian President thanked Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and the Government of Pakistan for hosting the summit.
President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon said the trade and investment were key elements for regional integration and development.
He stressed that the ECO member states should contribute for energy connectivity by building energy market, adding that Tajikistan was sixth in the word in clean energy market.
Emomali Rahmon said the ECO countries were rich of important
geographical location and it was essential that they establish links
through sea and railway.
He also called for better cooperation on risk reduction and emergency preparedness.
He said peace in Afghanistan was in the interest of whole region and his country had announced educational scholarships for 1,000 Afghan students.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev hoped that the ECO would grow as a platform of regional cooperation that would ultimately prosper the people.
He called for enhanced cooperation through improved infrastructure and communication projects.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the ECO Summit should make efforts for improved and enhanced road and transportation links and invited the member countries to take part in the projects of regional development.
He also called for broader energy cooperation among the ECO states, terming it essential for regional prosperity.
Besides economic cooperation, he said, there was also a need for political solidarity with the states facing bloodshed for the benefits of the foreign powers.
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow said his country considered the ECO as an effective platform for dialogue in the long term interests of the region.
He said Turkmenistan was playing an important role for regional peace and termed food, energy and overall securities inevitable for regional peace and development.
The country was pursuing multipronged energy policy, he said mentioning the energy projects signed with Pakistan and other regional states.
Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Bakytzhan Sagintayev said the ECO had become a platform for regional development.
He said Kazakhstan was pursuing various projects of regional connectivity and stressed the ECO countries to execute the communication projects for regional integration.
He said besides investing in communication projects, the ECO states must also enhance cooperation in science and technology.
Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov emphasized the need to ensure the operationalization of projects and enhance cooperation on trade, transport and energy among member states.
He viewed that it was high time to increase the effectiveness of the forum, besides translating all ideas into practical under ECO Vision 2025.
Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Ulugbak Rozukulov said the ECO was a route to link East with the West and the Vision 2025 would bring in development in the region.
He said Uzbekistan was playing an important role for regional peace. His country had expertise in transportation, he said and shared his government’s plans of regional connectivity.
Hazrat Umar Zakhiwal, Special Envoy of Afghanistan, congratulated the Prime Minister on his election as chairman of the ECO.
He said unfortunately the ECO region remained the least developed and least connected. Besides, the potential of tourism could not be exploited, he added.
Zakhiwal said the regional cooperation was a component of Afghan policy and the regional challenges could be tackled through collective steps.
ECO observers from Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Turkish Council and International Energy Charter, United Nations Secretary General’s special envoy and an observer from China also addressed the summit.