ISLAMABAD, Oct 10 (APP): Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani on Tuesday stressed upon member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to change the dynamic of their intra-regional trade and make determined efforts to support regional trade integration.
In a statement at the 27th ECO Council of Ministers meeting held at Shusha, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, he said that ECO intra-regional trade was less than 8 percent of the region’s aggregate trade and was in stark contrast to other regional groupings such as the European Union where intra-regional trade stood above 70 percent.
The ECO region, he further said, comprising 8 million square kilometers and half a billion people, representing 15% of the world population, had a share of only about 2% in the global trade.
He recalled the “ECO Vision 2025″, adopted during the 13thECO Summit in Islamabad which aptly provided them a roadmap.
“To seize the moment, we need to make concerted efforts to meet intended targets and anticipated goals, as enunciated in the ECO Vision 2025 and set a realistic time frame for their completion to reap tangible benefits,” the foreign minister said.
He said the ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) was a landmark preferential trade arrangement aiming to lower tariffs in the region over an agreed time-frame.
In the long-term, the minister said, it comprised the single, most comprehensive ECO initiative to broaden intra-regional trade and socio-economic prosperity of their future generations.
“Its early implementation would foster transit and trade activity through enhanced connectivity within the ECO framework,” he said and urged all member states to regard the early operationalization of ECOTA as a priority in a spirit of cooperation and accommodation so that their region might benefit from the true potential of enhanced economic interaction and trade linkages,” a press release quoted the foreign minister as saying.
The caretaker foreign minister said Pakistan attached great importance to ECO.
“Not only does it provide avenues for regular interaction, close cooperation, and strengthening of ties in our region, it also continues to hold promise of a brighter future for our succeeding generations in a rapidly shifting geopolitical order,” he observed.
The caretaker foreign minister opined that the geo-political significance of their region was enormous. Historically, the Silk Route, comprising the modern-day ECO region, had been at the crossroads of travellers and tradesmen, and served to join the Eastern and Western civilizations since antiquity.
“We stand at the crossroads of North-South and East-West hemispheres. Moreover, world’s strategically significant transport corridors pass through this region including International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),” he added.
The foreign minister further reiterated that the key to unlock the geo-economic potential of the ECO region was in the connectivity and elaborated that they could achieve this objective by taking three vital steps: (i) development of road and rail projects, (ii) liberalization of visa regimes and (iii) simplification of border procedures.
Foreign Minister Jilani said some of the most significant contributions of ECO had been the operationalization of Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) road corridor, along with implementation of Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA), and establishment of a fund for its implementation. Under the TIR system, trucks of the National Logistic Cell of Pakistan had been successfully transiting cargo through Iran.
Notification of more Border Crossing Points in the ECO region as TIR Stations could further facilitate trade operations in the region. Pakistan, on its part, was working closely with partner states, bilaterally and through the multilateral channels, toward enhancement and upgradation of transit connectivity, he added.
About the global warming, he said, was an existential threat to human civilization. Last year, Pakistan witnessed catastrophic monsoon rains and flooding, that impacted more than 33 million lives, and inflicted material losses to the tune of US$80 billion.
He also thanked the Republic of Azerbaijan for designating the year 2025 as the ‘Year of Green Transition and Interconnectivity” bringing the issue of climate change to the centre stage.
Foreign Minister Jilani said that they believed that “Green and Low-Carbon Solutions” was the key to sustainable future and they needed to transform into modern, resource-efficient and competitive economies, ensuring minimum net emissions of greenhouse gases.
They must join hands for a long term multi-dimensional, and fundamental transformation that enabled them to transition towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption in the ECO region, he added.
About Afghanistan, he said it stood at an important inflection point. After decades of conflict and instability, there was no war there as the security situation in the country had improved.
On the other hand, commensurate progress had not been made in addressing international concerns regarding inclusivity, rights of women and girls, and countering the threat posed by terrorist organizations based in Afghanistan, he added.
“We believe that the pathway to progress in Afghanistan leads through constructive engagement with the Interim Afghan Government. As friends and neighbours of Afghanistan, we, as members of the ECO, have a critical role to play to this end,” he reiterated.
The foreign minister stressed that they must leverage connectivity as a way to achieve economic revival and growth in Afghanistan which remained a key to sustainable peace, stability and prosperity.
“Connectivity projects such as CASA-1000, Trans-Afghan Railways, TAPI and others, are not merely economic undertakings, they are also strategic investments in our shared future. We should devise a common vision for regional connectivity,” he further added.
He said Pakistan looked forward to working closely with other ECO member states towards the shared ideals of a peaceful, prosperous and interconnected Afghanistan.
The foreign minister emphasized that the world needed peace, development, harmony, and respect for the cultural and civilizational diversity that this planet was blessed with. “We need to bring wars and illegal occupations to an end and help promote dialogue and diplomacy rather than reckless spending accentuating conflicts and divisions across the world and the people,” he added.
“We must remember that nobody is safe until everybody is safe. The world needs to learn a lot from the cultural and historical power of the ECO region and build stronger and deeper bridges to bring humanity closer and rid it off the challenges it is needlessly confronting today,” he added.