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May 15, 2019

Towards a promising future


May 15, 2019

The spring sunshine of April 26, 2019 promised a shared future as world leaders gathered together for the Second Belt and Road Forum to chart the road map for 'connectivity', linking regions to the world through economic corridors.

The clear difference from the first such event for international cooperation in 2017 to the recent one was not just the level of participation but the desire and commitment of the participating nations (including Italy) to take the initiative forward across new avenues of cooperation, thereby ensuring peace through economic growth, building mutual trust and combating challenges that the world faces. The absence of Indian participation was again noted.

The Second Belt and Road Forum provided the much-needed platform to partner countries to share their common policy interests by building bridges; sharing institutional policies and mindsets and creating opportunities within the region and beyond. Through the Belt and Road Forum, participating countries demonstrated commitment to enhance intergovernmental cooperation, build mechanisms through concerted efforts for the implementation of practical cooperation. Largely, the discussions and proposals offered in the thematic sessions were focused around economic growth, hard and soft connectivity and international development agenda embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In his welcoming remarks, Chinese President Xi outlined his vision of further opening measures and stated that “we must forge global connectivity partnership to achieve common development and prosperity”. He also stated that "as long as we work together to help each other; even if thousands miles apart we will be able to find a mutually beneficial and a win-win road”. Similarly, PM Imran Khan while highlighting the importance of CPEC in the overall context of the BRI stated that the BRI was "a lesson to others about what can be achieved by partnership. [The] BRI offers a model of collaboration, partnership, connectivity and shared prosperity”.

While looking at the list of world leaders and their desire to have share prosperity it can be said that the Belt and Road Initiative talks of a future where through common efforts countries will come closer to bridge the economic and infrastructure gaps irrespective of the size of the economy. The dream that promises enhanced trade linkages and connectivity of policies, people and trade is now turning into a reality. This is thus important to develop synergy and broaden extensive consultation for regional prosperity seeking a common goal.

The Second Belt and Road Forum also marked the successful five years of both the BRI and CPEC. In just five years, both CPEC and the BRI have made their mark across the globe. While the BRI is centered on six corridors with networks of railway, highways and ports, it also attaches great importance to soft connectivity. CPEC in each domain has surpassed other corridors in energy, port development, optical connectivity and highways. After the successful completion of the early harvest phase, we are now entering into the second phase with a focus on industrial cooperation and trade, agriculture, socio-economic development and third country participation. Currently, 22 projects are undergoing fast implementation, higher in pace in comparison with any other corridor of the BRI, making CPEC the central corridor of the initiative.

The signing of FTA-II on the sidelines of the forum with 313 tariff lines in agriculture, textile, light manufacturing etc has heralded a new era of increased trade activity mainly benefiting Pakistan in the industrial cooperation envisaged in CPEC. The setting up of the CPEC business council and the proposed Pak-China Business Forum will also help explore B2B opportunities in connecting to Chinese supply chains which imported goods worth of RMB14.1 trillion in 2018 alone.

Clearly, Pakistan is broadening the scope of CPEC beyond energy and infrastructure and venturing into new avenues. With the enhanced scope, greater human resource development is inevitable to support and implement key initiatives. Similarly, to create an enabling environment for investors attraction, the processes need to be simplified both in private and public work via methods that are more flexible based on practical situation and in line with the prime minister’s vision of ease of doing business. During Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit, an MoU on socio-economic development project was also signed; it contains 27 initiatives including six burn centers, hospitals upgrading, smart vocational centers and schools, agriculture and poverty alleviation demonstration centers and 20,000 scholarships for students to be completed between one and three years mainly focusing on the lesser developed areas.

It is believed that this expansion of scope of CPEC under the BRI will help establish stronger networks on a win-win basis will lead to sustainable regional growth. The increased focus on Gwadar city and port master-plan and the firming up of the preliminary design of the ML-1 railway project are the right steps towards removing existing gaps in infrastructure networks including road, rail and information networks etc. Moving forward, Pakistan needs to benefit from the 'Vision and action plan on agriculture and the vision of Maritime cooperation under BRI- 2017' for its economic growth. In the tourism sector, Pakistan needs to offer incentives, security and services to outbound Chinese tourists (150 million alone in 2018) to visit our northern areas. As a first step, we may announce 2019 as the year of tourism under Silk Road cooperation, establishing a tourism corridor.

While the world is at a crossroads, faced with unique challenges and threats, the Belt and Road Initiative offers opportunities for small and middle income countries striving to climb the ladder of economic growth. In this interesting time, CPEC and the BRI is promising fresh hope harnessing the dream of global interdependence and cultural harmony and creating a solid foundation for deepening cooperation. Under this spirit of cooperation, Pakistan, due its geo-strategic location, is key to the initiative and all we have to do is create the national synergy and optimism that can guide us well in the ongoing phase of CPEC.

The writer is a project managementspecialist and a faculty member atvarious universities.

Email: [email protected]

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