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Shaukat for setting up ECO free trade area

Business Recorder (Pakistan) | 7 May 2006

Shaukat for setting up ECO free trade area

BAKU (May 06 2006): Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Friday called for the establishment of an ECO free trade area and intra-regional oil and gas pipelines, saying an energy grid could create inter-linkages necessary for making the Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) more effective.

Addressing the ninth ECO Summit, the prime minister urged closer co-ordination of policies among the member states and said, "For the ECO to become a coherent, effective and seamless organisation, it must create inter-dependencies and synergies, especially, in the areas of energy, security, transportation linkages and trade promotion." He said efforts must be made to establish intra-regional oil and gas pipelines as well as power grids from energy rich to energy deficient countries.

The prime minister said that the ECO region was well placed to become a major hub of energy supply. "We can take the initial step of diversifying supplies within the region," he said, and termed the launch of the feasibility study on interconnection of power systems as a welcome development.

While sharing Pakistan’s vision for the ECO, he said establishment of a regional power grid would contribute to the economic integration of our region.

He also called for establishment of an ECO free trade area and urged finalisation of the Optional Protocol on fast track through an early consensus.

He said Pakistan has assumed the role of the co-ordinating country for Ecota and it believed that its establishment was well within the realm of possibility, provided the member states gave it the highest priority.

He said transportation linkages needed to be enhanced to provide corridors for co-operation, people-to-people contacts, tourism, cultural exchanges and free flow of ideas. The prime minister said improved transportation linkages would also facilitate greater flow of intra-regional trade enabling better regional specialisation while promoting complimentarities in the economies for common advantage of all member states.

He cited the example of Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan and said it has risen from less than $100 million only four years ago to over $1.2 billion, at present, while the projection for 2006 was $1.5 billion. He said free trade opens the door to wider markets.

Shaukat added that the ECO represents best hope to foster trade and economic linkages in the region. He referred to the Transit Transport Framework Agreement, which would come into force this month. He said the ECO Trade and Development Bank has also set up its board of governors, while several important annexes to Ecota had been concluded, generating confidence in its future.

He, however, said that the region has been facing "multiple new challenges" ranging from disease and malnutrition to environmental degradation and natural disasters. He attributed inordinate delays in undertaking key activities as one of the reasons impeding ECO’s growth, adding that it still had a long way to go to achieve the goal of regional integration.

Shaukat said the ECO had also taken positive initiatives, including plans to deal with avian influenza and develop a regional centre for risk management of natural disasters.

He said the devastating earthquake in Pakistan in October had underscored the need for such plans for disaster mitigation. He expressed his profound gratitude to member states and the ECO Secretariat for a generous response in the aftermath of the October 8 earthquake.

He said Pakistan could play a pivotal role in the region owing to its location and to bridge the regions of Central, South and West Asia while providing the shortest route for the landlocked Central Asian countries through sea.

He said work on a deep-sea port at Gwadar would be completed soon, while construction of road and rail transportation networks was also underway to complement Pakistan’s air links with these vital regions.

He informed the meeting about the ongoing talks for the Iran-Pakistan-India and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipelines, which he said, would help in bringing the energy resources of the ECO region to South Asia.

Talking about establishing a power grid from Tajikistan to Pakistan, he said that there was also the potential to establish such pipelines through Pakistan to Western China.

Shaukat said Pakistan respected Iran’s legitimate rights under the NPT, including the right to peaceful use of nuclear technology under appropriate safeguards. About the Kashmir dispute, he said it "lies at the heart of tensions between Pakistan and India."

About Afghanistan, he said its peace and stability was in Pakistan’s national interest and vital for regional security and development.

He said Pakistan would continue to support the Government of President Hamid Karzai and contribute to its reconstruction.

On the issue of terrorism, he said it threatened the entire international community. "No country is immune from this menace. Pakistan has long been its victim. We oppose terrorism in all its forms and manifestations," he added.

He said that a lasting solution to that problem required elimination of its root causes.

He also urged the member states to raise their voice, as Muslims, against the linkage that was being drawn in some societies between Islam and terrorism.

He said Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and harmony, which abhors violence. He called for measures to promote better understanding of Islamic values and said there was a need for a dialogue between the Muslim world and the West.

Meanwhile, Shaukat extended full support to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, saying Pakistan was against occupation of its land by Armenia.

He said Pakistan was against the occupation of territory of Azerbaijan by Armenia, and demanded vacation of its territory.

Shaukat said: "We fully and completely support the stand of Azerbaijan as it is just and fair, and we will continue to do so.

Earlier, leaders from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan discuss economic development in the region, which is rich in resources but largely underdeveloped.

Top officials and heads of state from the 10-member Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) discussed cross-border trade, transport infrastructure projects and regional security.

Copyright Associated Press of Pakistan, 2006

 source: Business Recorder