ECO countries asked to reorient trade by rapid liberalization

Islamabad: The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) has asked the member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to ensure regional integration by introducing preferential tariffs, establish efficient common institutions and an finalise an effective transport strategy.

So far, ECO members are reluctant to offer meaningful tariff cuts and agree on the function of common institutions resulting in disappointing outcome as compared to the other regional blocks like the EU, ASEAN and GCC that are preferring trade over politics, said President FPCCI Zubair Ahmed Malik.

Speaking at the Executive Committee meeting of the ECO Chamber of Commerce in Tehran, he said that Pakistan, Iran and Turkey founded Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) in 1964, the name was changed to ECO in 1985 but it remained the least integrated region depriving seven per cent of the global population of the opportunities.

Vice President of Islamic Republic of Iran Dr. Mohammad Ali Najafi, Mr Camur Ali Kopuz, Vice President of TOBB (The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey), Dr. M. Nahavandian, President ECO Chamber, Mr Khamoshi, founder president of ECO Chamber, Mr Hayari, Dy. Secretary General ECO Secretariat and others were also present on the occasion.

Zubair Ahmed Malik said that despite the trend of regionalism, the ECO with ten semi-industrial economies that include seven landlocked countries remained far from realising goals due to political considerations, misgivings, armed conflicts and poor infrastructure and wretched communications network.

With a combined population of 436 million with shared cultural and historic affinities, combined growth rate of 5 per cent and GDP at $1.9 trillion the intra-regional trade remains at dismal 7 per cent, he observed.

He noted that ECO Trade Agreement signed in 2003 in Islamabad is still awaiting operationalization to pave way for lowering barriers, promotion of trade, transport and ensuring energy and food security.

Likewise, progress on the ECO Visa Sticker scheme, agreement on the Promotion and Protection of Investment scheme, ECO Business Forum, ECO Arbitration Centre and the introduction of community-based tourism remains unsatisfactory.

Zubair Ahmed Malik said that a regional trade corridor linking Islamabad, Tehran and Istanbul under the Transit Transport Framework Agreement will help boost regional trade and bring EU closer to the region.

Similarly, Pakistan-Iran-Turkmenistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan trade corridors proposed by Pakistan would link up non-coastal countries with the rest of the world.

He informed that FPCCI has submitted contact details of one hundred leading textile, pharmaceutical, auto parts and construction material companies to be included in the ECO directory. Others should also follow the suit.

ECO will remain an impractical unless all the members of the grouping take it seriously and start lowering barriers individually and unilaterally for the greater good, he said.

He called upon the participants to push their governments for quick trade facilitation measures, removal of distortions and doubts, creation of a favourable environment for foreign investors, initiate market-oriented reforms and promote outward development strategies which will open opportunities for unlimited prosperity for the region covering eight million square kilometres, said Mr Zubair.