Jilani calls for ECO intra-regional trade growth

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ISLAMABAD: 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 eight per cent 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 per cent.

The ECO region, he said, comprising eight million square kilometres 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 13th ECO 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 timeframe 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 timeframe.

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, urging all member states to regard the early operationalisation 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 statement quoted the foreign minister as saying.

The caretaker foreign minister said Pakistan attached great importance to the 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 civilisations 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, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or the Belt and Road Initiative,” 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) liberalisation of visa regimes and (iii) simplification of border procedures.

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