ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday addressed the virtual 14th ECO Summit themed ‘Regional Economic Cooperation in the aftermath of COVID-19’, where he called upon Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to devise a joint strategy for ensure equitable access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine for the public good.
During his virtual address, Prime Minister Imran Khan also stressed on the need for mobilizing the resources of ECO countries to fight the pandemic effectively.
He urged adopting a plan to build resilient healthcare systems to respond to such crisis in future, with a capacity to produce medical equipment to respond to chronic and infectious diseases.
Highlighting Pakistan’s timely efforts to curb COVID-19, Prime Minister commented that, since the COVID-19 pandemic was still not over, there must be a collective effort for production of vaccine on an affordable rate and be declared as the public good.
Prime Minister remarked that, “No one will be safe from virus unless everyone is safe,” adding Pakistan had launched the COVID-19 inoculation with frontline workers on priority. Imran Khan said Pakistan faced challenges during the pandemic, however, adopted a people and poor-centric approach to balance saving of lives and livelihoods.
On the occasion, Prime Minister Imran Khan also mentioned that the ECO members states were severely affected by the health and economic crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic with over 150 million people hit by the virus and over 2.5 million lost their lives.
The developing countries, including the ECO member countries, had been excessively affected with economy declined and poverty increased, Prime Minister Imran Khan remarked.
Despite the financial constraints, he said, his government allocated an unprecedented $8 billion to the poorest and most vulnerable households through small businesses and direct handouts.
The prime minister said the rich countries injected $20 trillion to their economies to stimulate growth, however, pointed that the developing countries did not have the capacity for fiscal space to ensure liquidity.
Reiterating his proposal of a five-point plan to provide developing countries the fiscal space to recover from COVID-19 crisis including debt relief, creation and redistribution of Special Drawing Rights, concessional finance, mobilization of climate finance, and ending illicit financial floors and return of stolen assets back to the developing countries.
$1 trillion was illegally transferred every year from poor to rich countries and also to the tax havens, Prime Minister emphasized.
Mentioning the global challenge of religious discrimination, he pointed out that apart from health and economic consequences, he said the COVID-19 crisis had exacerbated the manifestation of religious discrimination, xenophobia and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, which was witnessed in Pakistan’s neighbourhood as well.
He said COVID-19 lockdown enabled the suppression of people in occupied territories struggling for their right to self-determination.
It was essential to reject any attempt linking Islam with terrorism and termed it the “biggest injustice” being done to the Muslims across the world. The misuse of freedom of expression to cause pain to the Muslims by denigrating Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) must be stopped, PM Khan emphasized.
Calling out international community, Imran Khan stated that at the United Nations, Pakistan, Turkey and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had initiated a proposal for the annual observance of an international day to combat Islamophobia.
With rich resources and enterprising people the ECO member countries represented half a billion people covering an area of eight million square miles and formed the geographical link in the Asian Continent east & west and north & south, he remarked.
Emphasizing for cooperation he stated that, the common cultural and heritage was nurtured by luminaries like Al-Bairuni, Farabi, Rumi and Iqbal, which could provide a solid foundation for cooperation under the ECO umbrella in sectors particularly trade, energy, tourism, agriculture and industrial growth.
On the occasion, Prime Minister also shed light over regional peace stating that, peace in Afghanistan was crucial to the success of such physical integration in the ECO region and expressed the hope that the successful culmination of Intra-Afghan Negotiations would lead to durable peace and security in Afghanistan.
Imran Khan called for developing an integrated transport network to facilitate both intra-ECO trade as a pathway for trade among major economies.
Calling the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad commercial cargo train and proposed Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway links the important regional connectivity projects, besides linking China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with Afghanistan.
He emphasized on implementing the cross-border projects already agreed upon among the ECO members, including Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the CASA 1000.
During his address, Prime Minister also proposed establishing an ECO Investment Agency and organizing an annual ECO Investment Fair where investment-ready projects could be presented, adding that the current eight percent mutual trade could be expanded 10-fold. Enhanced transport links would promote conscious measures for trade promotion.
The prime minister called for simplifying border procedures, establishing intra-regional institutional linkages, reinforcing existing regional mechanisms like ECO Trade Development Bank, operationalizing ECO Trade Agreement, and developing new initiatives like the Clearing Union.
Called for promotion of ECO knowledge-based economies with enhanced allocations for research and development, and rapid digitalization especially extension of broadband.