Distinguished Friends, Media Representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I extend a very warm welcome to you at the ECO Secretariat. We are meeting on the eve of the ECO Day. We celebrate the expansion this day in 1992 of ECO from a three-member state organization to one with ten important regional countries. It was a historic development of regional significance. It was no simple expansion of the geographic canvas. It has been the harbinger of a closer, more substantive regional cooperation. It has raised our sights to wider horizons, to higher aims, to bigger ambitions. We have the will and the way to pursue them to fruition. We are one family. We share many a commonality in history and heritage, faith and outlook, geography and culture. The ECO Day reminds us of all this and much more. It urges us on to pursue our aims with a stronger commitment, a sharper focus and a greater vigour.
The ECO region has many strengths. These range from a strategic location, rich natural resources, favourable weather systems to talented people. With a population of 400 million and a land mass of 8 million square kilometers, we are a no small region. Our total GDP exceeded US$1 trillion (US$1093 billion) in 2007. We had an average Growth Rate of over 6.5 percent. Our global trade exceeded US$511 billion. These and other indicators give us confidence to withstand the global financial crisis.
We attach the highest priority to trade. We crossed an important milestone with the ECO Trade Agreement taking effect from this year. It will give a strong boost to regional trade, already worth US$30 billion. We are pressing ahead to create a free trade area by 2015. The ECO Trade and Development Bank and the ECO Chamber of Commerce and Industry are already functioning. We have signed a set of agreements on investment promotion, customs cooperation and visa facilitation. We are also pursuing trade capacity building in cooperation with UNIDO and UNCTAD.
In transport, implementation of Transit Transport Framework Agreement is underway. An initial amount of US$512,000/- has been provided for it. We are creating an ECO Transport Infrastructure Development Fund for regional projects. We are streamlining Istanbul-Almaty train and pursuing its extension to Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan. We also propose to launch a demonstration train on Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul route in 2009. ECO’s region-wide White Card scheme for Third Party insurance is ready to be introduced shortly.
In the energy sector, ECO’s aim is to promote power trade, power exchange and efficient use of renewable sources of energy. We have to accelerate completion of the feasibility study on inter-connection of ECO power systems. We held a useful workshop in Almaty this month with the help of World Bank. Our Ministerial meeting on energy in Tajikistan early next year will make a comprehensive review of energy cooperation to strengthen and promote it.In industry, we are implementing measures agreed at the Ministerial meeting in Lahore (November 2006). The aim is to enhance the share of industrial goods and services in trade, encourage viable joint projects, help create an investment-friendly environment and facilitate grater involvement of the private sector. Efforts are also underway to promote privatization and establish an ECO nanotechnology network.
In agriculture, ECO’s Regional Programme for Food Security (RPFS) addresses low yield of crops, post-harvest losses, inefficient use of water and the problem of salinity. Our Agriculture Ministers (Baku, September 2008) decided to set up an ECO Regional Seed Association in Turkey and Regional Water Management Centre in Pakistan. We are also establishing a Permanent Veterinary Commission to combat transboundary diseases, and a Biotechnology Network.
Our region faces serious transnational organized crimes. These include drug control, counter terrorism, human and arms smuggling as well as money laundering. Our Interior Ministers (Ashgabat, May 2008) approved a joint strategy to fight these menaces. We appreciate the support of UN and other agencies – IOM, UNODC and EC – in this campaign.
We are pursuing a few reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. These include a Public Park and Kabul Zoo, which are nearing completion. Three other projects have been approved lately. These are for a school and a health centre in Bamian and a maternity hospital in Faryab.
Two important ECO events are coming up. The 10th ECO Summit will be held in Pakistan in late February or early March. It will be preceded by the Foreign Ministers’ meeting. The 19th RPC is going to be held in Chahbahar in January 2009. We will take important decisions in these meetings to carry forward ECO’s aims and objectives.
In conclusion, ECO has picked faster momentum in recent years. Our calendar of events maintains a rising graph. Implementation has risen from 46 percent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2007 and is set to touch 80 percent this year. Average participation has risen from 6 to 8 member states. Our aim is to realize the full potential of the organization which is indeed enormous.