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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has further consolidated Pakistan’s energy

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Mr Thapa

Most recently, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Head of the States meeting was held in Tajikistan during which roadmap of regional security, socio-economic integration, eradication of poverty, peace in Afghanistan, promotion of international & regional trade, removal of trade & investment barriers, formation of joint strategy to combat terrorism and work for inclusive government in Afghanistan was included in its joint declaration indicating strong will of China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to achieve greater regional connectivity through greater economic and innovative tools of transportation systems.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed CPEC supplemental to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) vision of regional connectivity and economic integration which has now further enhanced its relevance, utility and strategic orientation. It covers more than 60% of Eurasia with extensive implications for the entire world.

With its strategic expansion, the total population of the SCO countries will be almost 3.5 billion, which roughly accounts for half of the world, and the combined GDP is estimated to be exceeding 25% of the global GDP.

Uzbekistan has been rigorously pursuing policies of greater regional connectivity with the South Asian Region.

In this connection, constant bilateral political consultation, economic cooperation, trade & investment potential, joint venture prospects and last but not the least, transportation cooperation between Pakistan and Uzbekistan have been streamlined, systematized and made strategic oriented.

Most recently, in this context the Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, held talks with the Pakistan Premier, Imran Khan, in Dushanbe.

The wide-ranging talks covered bilateral cooperation with a special focus on trade, economic relations and regional connectivity.

The two leaders thoroughly discussed development and implementation of numerous agreements to further strengthen Pak-Uzbek multifaceted cooperation.

The two leaders emphasized the importance of further joint work to create favourable conditions for the expansion of fruitful business exchanges.

Prospects of the early adoption of an agreement on preferential trade, the implementation of the provisions of the agreement on transit and trade relations, the implementation of investment projects in various sectors of the economy in accordance with the adopted roadmap were also prioritized.

Matters of regional security, especially emerging geopolitical and geostrategic situation in Afghanistan, were also discussed. An agreement was reached to continue close cooperation to ensure regional security.

On his part, PM Imran Khan termed structured political ties, fast tracking trade and economic cooperation by operationalizing Uzbekistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (UPTTA), enhancing defence and security cooperation and further increasing collaboration in the fields of education, culture and tourism significant for further strengthening of sustainable socio-economic bilateral relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan in which CPEC would play an important role in the days to come.  He showcased the importance of early finalization of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA).

Premier Khan stressed the importance of a multi-modal and multidimensional integrated system of connectivity and reaffirmed Pakistan’s full support for the visionary Trans-Afghan Railway Project (TARP) and assured all possible support for its early realization.

It is hoped that once completed, this project would effectively link the Central Asian countries with the world through the seaports of Karachi and Gwadar.

He further highlighted Pakistan’s efforts in support of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

He thanked President Mirziyoyev for Uzbekistan’s support to Pakistan’s initiative on engagement of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbouring countries for a coordinated approach.

Constant initiation and successful implementation of numerous structural reforms have revolutionized the socio-economic outlook of Uzbekistan.

It consists of unification of exchange rates, liberalisation of foreign trade, removing barriers hindering the cross-border flow of goods and people, commencing the transformation of the banking sector, radical tax reform and ensuring that state intervention remains at a minimum level. It has increased the economic status of Uzbekistan as an investment destination.

It has further improved its ranking on the Doing Business Index to 69th place in 2020, as opposed to the 87th position in 2016.

Moreover, Uzbekistan was one of the best performing economies in the Central Asian region in 2020 growing by 1.7 percent making it one of few economies to register positive economic growth.

According to the State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan (June 2021), the gross domestic product for the first six months of this year increased by 6.2 percent which is very impressive and steady progress.

Moreover, many international rating agencies have also estimated a positive economic outlook for the country for 2021-2022.

According to J.P. Morgan (August, 2021) Uzbekistan’s economy is expected to grow by 8.1 percent in 2021 and by 6.3 percent in 2022. Thus present and future economic prospects are bright.

Moreover, international rating agency Moody’s rates Uzbekistan in the ‘positive’ category and estimates Uzbekistan’s economic growth rate at 5.5 percent during this fiscal year and 6.3 percent next year. Even the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) forecasts that Uzbekistan’s economy will grow by 6 percent in 2022.

Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev also handled the COVID-19 crisis in a prudent manner. The government of Mirziyoyev initiated a host of emergency measures.

The World Health Organisation praised Uzbekistan for strengthening its health sector during the COVID crisis.

In a bid to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC), Uzbekistan has decided to introduce mandatory health insurance (MHI) as part of the health reforms agenda.

So, health cooperation under BRI extended Health partnership, Health Silk Route and CPEC would be an ideal combination to promote bilateral health cooperation between Pakistan and Uzbekistan in the days to come.

Being a prominent regional expert of China, CPEC and BRI, this scribe suggests that holistic policies of economic integration, innovative socio-economic policies, befitting transportation systems (TIR, trans-regional railway), and last but not the least, beneficial greater regional connectivity through the ideal combination of BRI and CPEC would be a game and fate changer.

Stability in Afghanistan would speed up numerous trans-regional projects of energy cooperation especially TAPI, CASA-1000 and, of course, will give new impetus to proposed trans-regional railway project of Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Early signing of PTA will lead towards the ultimate goal of FTA in which the role of the private sector is immense which needs to be harmonized as soon as possible.

In this context, mere cosmetic webinars on regional connectivity will achieve nothing but systematic holding of a series of trade & investment road-maps/shows, intensified business contacts, close liaison with respect of chambers of commerce, active roles of respective embassies and comprehensive but sensible media projection should be the way forward.

Sincere efforts should be initiated to achieve optimal utility of Gwadar seaport by all the Central Asian Countries.

 

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