Planning Minister Asad Umar, in his meeting with economic ministries, expressed the desire for ground breaking ceremony of at least one Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the Allama Iqbal Industrial City at Faisalabad before the end of December. He urged the authorities of these ministries to complete all paper work. He told them that instead of solely relying on Chinese investment alone in SEZs, the sources of foreign investment must be diversified and opportunities for local businessmen must also be ensured for the creation of jobs for local working force.
The strategic initiative of SEZs for heralding the second phase of industrialization under CPEC needed to have been prioritized. The PC-1s for the provision of public utilities like electricity, and gas are yet to be finalized and submitted by the power division and ministry of petroleum and natural resources. Each industrialzone will need 200 megawatt electricity grid station and smooth supply of gas with required pressure. The groundbreaking of SEZ at Faisalabad will be followed by the one at Rashakai in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. But apart from the finalisation and approval of PC-1 for laying electricity and gas infrastructure by the relevant ministries of federal government, land acquisition process has also not been completed by the provincial government.
Local entrepreneurs can enter into joint ventures with Chinese and investors of other countries when the industrial base of Pakistan moves from the existing second generation technology to fourth and fifth generation technology on the technological models implemented by Vietnam and Bangladesh. No doubt the local working force is inexpensive as compared with the ones in some countries of South Asia but it would need skill development to get employment in the industries to be set up in SEZs. Barring sporadic initiatives of the previous Punjab government in collaboration with a Chinese university, neither the previous nor the present government in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa has stated any result oriented skill development long term programme. Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) is a non-functional organization. Skill development should have been top priority to reap maximum benefits of SEZs.
If introduction of advanced technology and skill development to the required standard are not done it will hurt the economy of the country on a wide scale. The unprotected local industry outside the SEZs will start closing, rendering the workers employed therein out of jobs. The trade leaders of “Golden Industrial Triangle”, comprising the industrial estates of Gujrat, Gunranwala and Sialkot had already expressed their worries about this economic scenario. It is time that federal government focuses on induction of latest technologies in the industrial base; allocate sufficient resources for research and development and provincial governments make investment in skill development.