Pakistan stresses free-trade area for ECO region’s prosperity

Pakistan on Monday called for initiating work on creating a free trade area for the benefit of member states of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to promote regional prosperity.

“The ECO region is endowed with tremendous resources and potential. It is imperative to leverage this potential for the betterment of our peoples,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the 10-member organization’s ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

ECO members are: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Republic of Uzbekistan.

Qureshi said the ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) could play an important role in ensuring deeper economic cooperation and integration among member countries.

“It is a well established fact that expanding trade is the most effective catalyst for prosperity.”

As a first step to a free-trade area, he said the member states need to implement the Transit Trade Framework Agreement (TTFA) at the earliest.

The establishment of ECO Trade and Development Bank and opening of its representative office in Karachi this May, the foreign said, augured well for trade and business activities among the member states.

Currently the ECO region suffered from “connectivity deficit” that hampered economic activity and people-to-people interaction.

Pakistan, he said, supported the launch of ECO Truck Caravan from Islamabad to Istanbul. “We should build upon the two initiatives fill in the connectivity vacuum.” The foreign minister thanked the ECO for its donation for the relief of flood-affected people in Pakistan.

Stressing the special responsibility of ECO members towards Afghanistan’ he said Pakistan had pledged US$ 5 million to ECO’s re-construction Fund.

“We believe that the socio-economic development of Afghanistan would contribute towards early return of peace and normalcy in the brotherly country.”