Commencement of ECO Day in Islamabad: Dawn of emerging inclinations
After the successful conclusion of 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Islamabad in March 2017 under the theme of “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity” at the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, the 28th Meeting of the Regional Planning Council (RPC) was held during December 2017 in Islamabad.
The Ministerial segment, chaired by H.E. Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission of Pakistan, was attended by high level delegations from the ECO Member States and observers, as well as heads and officials of the ECO Specialized Agencies and Regional Institutions. The Ministerial segment received reports of the 8 sectoral committees; on Trade and Investment, Transport and Communications, Energy, Mineral and Environment, Agriculture, Industry and Tourism, Projects, Economic Research and Statistics, Human Resources and Sustainable Development, Drugs and Organized Crimes, and External Relations and ECO Regional Institutions and Specialized Agencies.
Regional Planning Council (RPC) is the main technical planning body within the ECO which comprises of the Head of Planning organization of the member states as well as officials and experts from the national ministries and agencies. The meeting was co-chaired by Federal Minister Mr. Ahsan Iqbal and Secretary General ECO Mr. Halil Ibrahim Akca for assessment of progress of execution of the ECO approved projects and consideration of proposals for new projects for the coming year. It included trade, investments, transport, communications, energy, minerals, environment, agriculture, industry, tourism, economic research statistics, human resource, drugs related projects. The agenda items have been addressed in eight committees.
ECO sectoral work program was also planned by the designated committee. In addition, the RPC also reviewed draft of ECO advocacy policy for Afghanistan. Mr. Ahsan Iqbal while addressing the 28th meeting of Regional Planning Council of ECO countries has said that, “Economic and environmental challenges are becoming regional and global”.
He further revealed that world is becoming more integrated and connected, therefore it requires cooperation and not confrontation. The possibility of global partnership is huge in the contemporary world due to advances in technology and communication infrastructure. The need for a physical presence is increasingly becoming less important with cyber connectivity. We must take advantage of the forums like ECO to foster regional cooperation for collective prosperity, peace and stability in our region and member states.
While discussing the current trade volume as far below the potential, Secretary General Economic Coordination Organization (ECO) Halil Ibrahim Akca has called upon the ECO member states to double their joint efforts for increasing the intra-regional trade by two folds. He further elaborated that, “ECO Vision 2025 has stipulated to double the intra-regional trade for which we need to at least redouble efforts.”
During his address, Mr Akca said that the intra-regional ECO trade accounts for 7.64 percent of the total trade of the ECO member states which is not comparable with peer economic blocs, therefore ECO needs to intensify efforts on this account. The share of ECO in global trade is stagnating around just 2 percent of the total trade of the ECO member states despite the fact that ECO has 6.2 percent of the world population.
The four-day meeting was kicked off to review progress on the implementation of the ECO-approved programs and projects as well as to consider proposals for new programs and projects for the year 2018-2019. The meeting was being attended by representatives of 10 ECO member countries besides high officials from the concerned federal ministries.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was not part of ECO but the member states of the organization were very much interested to take benefit of the corridor. When it comes to rapid socio-economic, political and scientific developments in the world, and taking into account the opportunities and challenges, ECO is paving 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.
Regarding energy sector, Halil Ibrahim Akca has informed the participants that ECO is in process of developing the next ECO plan of action for energy and petroleum cooperation for the period 2018-22, building on the achievements and shortcomings of the existing ECO plan of action (2010-15), taking into account adopted “ECO Vision 2025” and the trending UN SDGs. New plan of action was expected to be finalized and approved by the 4th ECO ministerial meeting on Energy to be held in Turkey.
The Secretary General thanked and appreciated Pakistan for hosting the landmark 28th RPC Meeting. He provided a comprehensive overview of activities of ECO during 2017. He said that holding of the 13th ECO Summit and the 22nd COM Summit at Islamabad were the main highlights of the year.
The Ministerial Segments of the RPC was inaugurated by Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission of Pakistan. In his opening remarks, while welcoming the delegates he highlighted the importance of the regional cooperation and integration. He stressed that the ECO Member Countries need to enhance their economic linkages.
The Deputy Chairman called for the implementation of the decisions taken during the 13th ECO Summit and 22nd COM. He called for formulating the ECO policies and programs in line with ECO Vision 2025. He highlighted the significance of the RPC Meeting and called upon the participants for adopting holistic approach for enhancement of economic cooperation to achieve economic prosperity. He was unanimously elected as the Chairman.
There are several challenges faced by the ECO member states. Challenges of peace and stability were growing in the region as the ECO region is located very close to the Middle East which is set on boiling point due to the recent developments in the region which has posed many challenges to tranquility and stability in the region.
ECO Secretary General in his statement informed that the ECO Vision 2025 approved earlier this year was a major achievement for the Organization as this will help in realizing the overarching objectives of the ECO. He especially mentioned the achievement of the ECO namely, the formation of ECO Reinsurance Company in Karachi and establishment of Customs Anti-smuggling Database in Ankara. In the Transport sector, he mentioned the establishment of a Working Group to follow up the decisions of Second ICT Ministerial Meeting. He also informed the meeting about the four commercialization studies for the East-West and North-South corridors of ECO region.
During the Ministerial Meeting, the ECO Heads of Delegation thanked the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for making excellent arrangements and warm hospitality provided to them. In their Country Statements, they highlighted the significance of the regional cooperation and gave an overview of their major developments contributing to ECO objectives. The Ministerial Meeting adopted the ECO Work Program 2018 along with ECO Calendar of Events 2018 and called upon the Member States to actively participate in implementation of this program.