FM discusses regional, int’l issues with global leaders, 26th ECO Council of Ministers

Tashkent : Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that it is a matter of great privilege for me to represent Pakistan at the Twenty Sixth ECO Council of Ministers Meeting in the historic and beautiful city of Tashkent. On behalf of the Pakistan delegation and on my own behalf, I would like to convey our profound gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan for hosting the event and extending such wonderful hospitality.
I take this opportunity to expend and extend my warmest felicitations to Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H.E. Mr. Jeyhun Bayramov on assumption of the Chairmanship of this Council of Ministers. We look forward to benefiting from your vast experience, wisdom and leadership. I assure you of Pakistan’s wholehearted support and commitment in your future endeavours for the ECO.
May I also express our deep appreciation to distinguished Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan H.E. Mr. Rashid Meredov, the outgoing Chairman, for having ably led this body during his tenure.
I would also like to extend my appreciation to His Excellency Ambassador KhusravNoziri, the Secretary General of the ECO, for providing able stewardship to this Organization.

Pakistan views ECO as an important platform in the region and to strengthen ties among Member States. ECO region is tied with common history, culture, values and therefore, share the same destiny. This makes the Organization an invaluable platform to promote connectivity, trade and economic cooperation among member states.
Let us reaffirm our commitment to the vision which led to the formation of the ECO and set its economic agenda for collective progress.
ECO was founded with high hopes and great ambitions. The Treaty of Izmir envisaged a closely knit fraternity of member states in an integrated, interconnected and prosperous region. A region integrated through means of free trade, infrastructure and energy connectivity and collective well-being of the peoples of the region.
Since its inception, ECO has made steady progress. Today, this organization is proud of a solid framework of cooperation, a forward-looking agenda and an expanding horizon of activities. We are thankful to ALLAH Subhana Taalah for blessing our countries and the region with enormous resources.
Yet, we have a long way to go to realize the objectives of the Treaty of Izmir. Our organization has yet to harness its full potential and bring tangible benefits to the ECO community.
We are meeting at a time of profound global transformation and challenges. From a global economic recession as a result of post-covid aftershocks challenging the very foundations of world financial and economic architecture, to the spectre of extremism, militancy, terrorism and Islamophobia. Natural disasters, climate change and poverty affect today and unfortunately ECO countries are at the heart of these cataclysmic phenomena. We have a special responsibility towards our people and our region to convert challenges into opportunities, obstacles into solutions, and ideas into reality for a brighter future.
The contemporary times present opportunities and challenges which can best be tackled through a holistic approach. Pakistan believes that we, the ECO family, led by shared principles of solidarity and mutual support, have the collective strength to measure up to these challenges.
Together, we can, and should make a difference. The future of our coming generations is dependent on actions taken today.
You are aware that Pakistan was recently hit by the worst ever climate-induced floods that put one third of Pakistan to a situation that no one had imagined or seen in living memory.
More than 1,500 of our people have lost their lives including 400 children. More than 33 million people including women and children are at a high risk of health hazards and far more are in peril of starvation and being homeless. Early estimates suggest that more than 13,000 kilometres of metalled roads have been damaged, over 370 bridges have been swept away, a million homes have been destroyed and another million damaged. More than a million farm animals have been killed. Four million acres of standing crops have been washed away, stripping the people of their breadbasket; a damage of an unimaginable scale. Even today, six months are huge swathes of the country are still underwater.
It was a monsoon of biblical magnitude; “Monsoon on Steroids” as was described by the UN Secretary General, with a mix of flooding and also Pakistan has largest number glaciers outside of polar region these glaciers are melting at a rate three times higher than the global average. Our forests are burning; while more heat waves are expected.
Pakistan had never seen such a devastating example of global warming. Life in flood affected areas of Pakistan has changed forever.
And the truth of the matter is that our actions did not contribute to what we had to withstand. Our carbon footprint is nominal; we produce only less than 1 per cent of greenhouse gases.
The impacts of these floods have emerged as the biggest emergency in Pakistan; not the covid-pandemic at the moment. According to the World Bank, Pakistan has lost some $30 billion as a result of the floods. Pakistan’s urgent priority right now is to ensure rapid economic growth and lift millions out of destitution and hunger. I am grateful to the member countries for supporting the flood affected people in Pakistan, and we will not only build back better do so in climate resilient.
We welcome the proposal of the Republic of Uzbekistan for establishment of a High-Level Dialogue Platform on Environmental Cooperation within the framework of ECO, as mentioned in the agenda of today’s meeting. We believe that it is a very opportune and sagacious decision to take a collective approach to address the issues that concerns all of us; our region, where most of our economies are directly dependent upon weather patterns and are the most affected by the effects of climate change; the issue of Climate Cooperation is very significant. We need to develop a time-responsive, well-funded, and strategically robust emergency response mechanism within the region to respond to such crises in the future. I would urge member states to come together and act now before it is too late.
The ECO region, comprising 8 million square kilometres and half a billion population – roughly 15% of the World population, carries a share of only 2.2 % in global trade.
Moreover, our intra-regional trade is less than 8% of region’s aggregate and is in stark contrast to other regional groupings such as the EU where the intra-regional trade stands above 70%!
Showing on the global and glacial levels there is far more economic potentials for us to unlock for the benefits of our peoples and countries regional preferential trade framework among the ECO members would help us in enhancing economic cooperation.
If we are able to harmonize our trade policies and procedures, establish better infrastructure and set our objective on achieving free movement of goods and services through liberalization of trade we will be able to significantly increase our intra-regional trade volume manifold.

ECO Trade Agreement is a landmark preferential trade arrangement aiming at lowering tariffs in our region over an agreed timeframe.
As the coordinating country on ECOTA, Pakistan attaches great importance to its early implementation. We hope ECOTA tariff concessions will take effect soon. We urge all contracting parties to take a broader and more holistic view of the matter.
Pakistan, at its end will continue to accord high priority to trade promotion and facilitation within the ECO framework.
“ECO Vision 2025”, adopted during the 13th ECO Summit  in Islamabad is a key document that guides us towards increasing intra- regional trade; strengthening regional connectivity; operationalizing the major ECO transport corridors; coordinating efforts to achieve energy security and sustainability; increasing inter-regional trade including increasing contribution of ECO countries in the global trade, and finally promoting tourism.
We need to assess our progress with reference to ECO Vision 2025.
The geo-political significance of our region cannot be overstated. We stand at the crossroads of North-South and East-West hemispheres. The key to unlock the geo-economic potential of the ECO region lies in greater connectivity.
Connectivity through development of road and rail projects, liberalization of visa regimes and simplification of border procedures will not only address our intra-regional requirements of energy and enhancing intra-regional trade, but it will also enable us to act as a bridge and create mutual inter-dependencies.
Promotion of trade and investment is a key strategy to strengthen our security. Greater economic cooperation amongst us will bring peace and stability in the region.
A significant development that happened during recent times has been the operationalization of Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) road corridor, along with the establishment of a fund for the implementation of the transit transport framework agreement.
Moreover, under TIR system, trucks of National Logistical Cell of Pakistan have been successfully transiting cargo through Iran. Barring some early technical and procedural impediments, during all phases, excellent cooperation was extended by all those who were involved in this process.
It is imperative that more Border Crossing Points in the ECO region are notified as TIR Stations so that the trade operations are similarly facilitated.
Pakistan, for its part, is upgrading its rail and road infrastructure to facilitate further smooth flow of goods with our neighbours and beyond.
The successful operation of the aforementioned arrangements should encourage us to operationalize and interlink other such corridors in the region as well. Realization of such projects will not only create functional region-wide transit corridors, but also facilitate an enabling environment for the private sector to avail of these land and sea routes.It will also help minimize the cost of operations while promoting intra-regional connectivity in its true spirit.
It is noteworthy that ECO has developed its specialized agencies and regional institutes in many Member States. With an expanding array of activities, the need for specialization is being felt more acutely.
However, I believe that these institutions or specialized agencies such as ECO Science Foundation (Islamabad), ECO Cultural Institute (Tehran), and ECO Educational Institute (Ankara) will not be able to deliver at par with our objectives unless all the members complete the due formalities for membership and actively contribute to their activities. I hope that ECO Research Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan will be operational soon I am happy today Pakistan is signing chapter of ECO research centre in Baku, Azerbaijan. And this would be interacted to the force and the centre and contributed to research in economic field to the benefit of all member states.
It is necessary that all the ECO Members should join these specialized agencies, ratify the respective charters and lend their full material and active support to enable them to function.

Reforms are important in improving efficiency and effectiveness in any organization. The Reform Process concluded during the 24thCOM was a commendable effort.
Recognizing that reform is an ongoing process and an integral requirement for organizational revival and dynamics, we may consider another such exercise at an appropriate stage. The guiding principle shall be to further promote effectiveness and the interests of the Organization, as only a strong and efficient Secretariat will effectively guide the member states towards our shared objectives.
Peace and security is a pre-requisite for economic growth in the region. An unresolved conflict or injustice in any form would hinder any prospects of growth and development.
Pakistan, itself being victim of terrorism, fully realizes the value of peace and security. We have always endeavoured for promoting peace and stability and upholding international law and the UN Charter.
Our region has a vital stake in the peace, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. It is our utmost desire to see peace taking root in brotherly Afghanistan, which has suffered for decades due to war and instability.  The aims and aspirations of the ECO region would remain dreams and unachieved without peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Today, around 40 million Afghans are left without a functional economy having been cut off from the international banking system, and increasingly face a precarious existence; no modern state can survive if the wheels of the commerce and industry are not allowed to spin freely.

As per the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), around 20 million people, half the population of Afghanistan depends on humanitarian assistance to feed themselves, by the end 2023. This number is expected to rise up to 28.3 million Afghans who would require humanitarian and protection assistance from the international community.

At this critical juncture, pushing the Interim Afghan Government into isolation would further aggravate the suffering of the ordinary Afghan; history has taught us that engagement and dialogue are the only sustainable pathways that lead to desirable outcomes whereas isolation breeds resentment and instability.

The international community needs to respond positively and urgently to the UN Secretary General’s appeal for US $ 4.2 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan and explore ways and means to revive its banking system.

Our ECO family has been generous in provision of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan; yet, more needs to be done. We must continue to work together for extending timely assistance to Afghanistan to avert the impending humanitarian crises that would unfold if the country is cut off from vital humanitarian aid. For the world at large, and our region in particular, it would entail unimaginable consequences if, God forbid, such an eventuality unfolds.

We firmly believe that only a peaceful, prosperous, stable and connected Afghanistan can act as a pillar of strength for the ECO region and promote connectivity with Central Asia and beyond.
As a Founding member, Pakistan has been, and will remain in the forefront of shaping ECO’s agenda. We have full faith in ECO’s bright future. We shall leave no stone unturned in helping ECO ensure its realization. We urge ECO Member States to closely coordinate their policies to minimize adverse impact of the current global economic crisis.
We wish to see ECO Region transform into a prosperous trading bloc that stimulates and promotes industrial growth, reduces and eventually eliminates tariff and non-tariff barriers, to promote free trade within the region and becomes a factor of global peace, stability and prosperity.

I am confident that, with our collective and coordinated efforts from the platform of ECO, we can realize the true potential of the ECO region.
Pakistan reiterates its firm belief in ECO’s founding values and its commitment to ECO Vision 2025.
Lastly, let’s recall our commitment to make ECO an organization, not just of words but of action, not just of commitments, but implementation; an organization where we could proudly pass the baton to our future generations without any remorse or regrets, as an organization where every year is celebrated as the “Year of Strengthening Connectivity”.