ISLAMABAD - Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Revenue Haroon Khan has said Pakistan holds a very important strategic position on the world map due to its proximity to China, Russia and India and the country can become the gateway to Central Asia for oil and energy trade.

"Our close ties with all Muslim countries and the Middle Eastern economies cannot be understated," he said in his address to the inaugural session of the 8th meeting of the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) of Heads and Customs Administration held at a local hotel Tuesday.

He said ECO countries together formed a geo-politically important block. "Turkey bridges the continents of Europe and Asia while Iran is situated at the crossroads of Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. Similarly, the Central Asian Republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were uniquely located on the Silk Road and Energy Corridor connecting the giant economies of China and Russia to rest of the world."

Dr Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General World Customs Organization; Kanan Nazarov, Deputy Secretary General ECO , Azerbaijan; Aydin Aliyev, Chairman of the State Customs Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan; Forood Asgari, Head, Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration; Kenbayev Shyngys, Chief Expert of the International Cooperation Division, State Revenue Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Azim Tursunzoda, Deputy Head of Customs Service, Republic of Tajikistan; Sezai UCARMAK, Deputy Undersecretary of the Ministry of Customs and Trade, Republic of Turkey; Chairman FBR Tariq Mahmood Pasha and senior officials of Pakistan Customs Service were also present.

Referring to the latest ECO Statistical Report, Haroon Khan said the share of the ECO in the global trade was almost 2 per cent as against ECO region’s population of 6.2 per cent in the world population. "We can see from these numbers that we have a tremendous opportunity to grow and reach our maximum potential," he said.

He called for simplification of Customs procedures for ease of trade, calling it an important step for enabling the economic integration of ECO members. "We must benefit from the existing agreements signed by ECO countries, especially ECO Transit Trade Agreement, ECO Trade Agreement, MOU between World Customs Organization (WCO) and ECO , MOU on Cooperation against Smuggling & Customs Frauds among ECO countries and Transit Trade Framework Agreement."

He said Pakistan Customs was committed to working closely with the ECO and WCO on adoption of international best practices through enhanced representation and Pakistan had already moved ahead on this front by issuing its rules for implementation of Transports Internationaux Routiers Convention, commonly known as TIR Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets. "This will surely help in promoting ECO regional trade," he added.

Haroon Khan called for taking advantage of the existing MoU between WCO and ECO to maximise the benefits for capacity building, enforcement operations and joint exercises, adding that "we should also benefit from the ECO Agreement on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Custom Matters in order to share information". "Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is an important instrument of cooperation in this age of fast communication and paperless world. This can assist the Customs Administrations to share vital information to facilitate the legitimate trade."

The Special Assistant to PM on Revenue also offered Pakistan to become a regional training hub for ECO countries in all the relevant areas of Customs cooperation. "The existing facility of the Directorate General of Training and Research of Customs in Karachi can be effectively utilized to conduct training courses from the perspective of both Enforcement and Trade Facilitation. A pool of our already accredited trainers by World Customs Organization can provide these trainings. This center can provide our colleagues from Central Asian countries, which do not have a port, a unique experience at a sea port and to observe modalities of transit trade."

Highlighting the economic gains and achievements of recent years, Haroon Khan told the delegates Pakistan has done fairly well in attaining macroeconomic stability. "Our inflation is at a historical low of around 4 %. Our GDP growth was 5.3% last year. We are well on our way to achieve the 6% mark this year. Our central bank policy rate is at 5.75%, one of the lowest in our history. Our fiscal deficit remains under 6%. Our currency is stable. Our stock market has gone up from under 19,000 to over 41,000 in a short period of four years. Our power shortage problem is soon to be a thing of the past with thousands of megawatts coming on line. Our gas shortage is being covered by importing liquefied natural gas (LNG). We successfully ended a three year IMF programme last year."