ADDRESSING the 15th Summit of the Heads of State of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, President Arif Alvi very rightly pointed out that despite having all elements for economic growth, the ECO region was amongst the least integrated regions in terms of trade and investment which necessitated unlocking of potential for an impetus to growth and development.
This regional bloc was established back in 1985 by the leaders of Pakistan, Turkey and Iran and the objective was to establish a single market for goods and services, much like the European Union.
However, unfortunately, one sees no visible progress towards that end regardless of the fact that its member states, mostly Muslim countries have excellent relations amongst themselves and the engagement amongst them is also frequent.
With the combined population of about 500 million and equipped with vast natural and human resources, this region indeed has all the potential to contribute immensely to the generation of economic activity.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his speech at the moot very accurately emphasized for putting into effect the trade agreement ECOTA, which is amongst the strategic goals of 2025 Vision document, to enhance the trade volume to the level of 100 billion dollars.
To achieve this goal, the ECO countries will really have to focus on transport corridors involving both rail and road projects in order to maximize mobility and connectivity not only within the region but the neighbouring regions and to reach international markets.
This must be supplemented with simplifying visa and consular procedures so that the people and businessmen can easily move within the region. Doing so will also help promote tourism.
Similarly, there is a great scope to enhance collaboration amongst the ECO countries in the areas of energy, industries and agriculture and benefit from each other’s experiences and resources.
To unlock this potential, the leadership really will have to go beyond the lip service and do the practical work to shape a better future for the current and coming generations.
The ECO countries should also come forward in a bigger manner to extend humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and play their part for restoration of complete peace there. Sans this, the idea of regional integration and connectivity will only remain a dream.