BOAO  – Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Monday said that the Asian region has been a victim of international power politics, but this is even more true of Pakistan.

Both the Soviet-Afghan war and the ongoing war on terror have negatively impacted the country in many ways however the economic damage is most grave and hence terribly visible, Gilani said. This has created negative perceptions and made harder for Pakistan to attract investment, he added.

Addressing Asia’s top leaders, corporate executives and academics at Boao Forum for Asia’s annual conference, Prime Minister Gilani said the way forward for the Asian countries was to establish regional harmony and sustainable development through increased trade and economic growth.

“If we do not establish a regional harmony based on trade, investment and economic growth, we fear we will remain hostage to the past. We can break free of this past.“

The 21st century is the ‘Asian Century’, the prime minister said and mentioned that Asia’s role in global economic order had changed rapidly. He said China’s role in Asia, and Asia’s economic, political and strategic importance was central. He said by 2050, Asia was expected to account for more than half of the global economy, restoring the world’s largest continent to its former position of economic primacy. “In short, we may well be witnessing the birth of a new world.“

PM Gilani recalled the global recession, three years back and said the world has not fully recovered as more uncertainty lies ahead and the pace of growth has been slow and uneven. However to achieve this he said “we have to remain vigilant and greater international coordination will be required amongst all stakeholders and international financial institutions.”

Gilani also shared Pakistan’s economic ‘turnaround’ with the participants and said since his government was sworn in 2008, democracy has made a come-back and the parliament has passed landmark legislation.

“Our constitution has been restored, judiciary is independent, and media is free, with over 100 private television networks and a vibrant civil society.” He said new laws have empowered women, more authority and resources have been transferred to the provinces. Institutions like the Central Bank, the Securities Exchange Commission and the Competition Commission were playing an active role. He mentioned the many challenges that the young democracy had to face including the fragile economy it inherited, external shock of high oil and commodity prices, and the continuing ravages of war in the neighbourhood. “We have paid a high price for international power politics,” Gilani acknowledged and said the Soviet-Afghan war left more than 3.5 million refugees in Pakistan, which the international community appears to have forgotten about, but Pakistan continues to bear this burden. Gilani said the war on terror has impacted the region severely; it has especially made harder for his country to attract investment due to creation of negative perceptions.

The prime minister also mentioned the massive floods that wiped out 2% growth of Pakistan’s GDP and caused damages estimated at $10 billion. He said Pakistan’s efforts to create jobs for young people and bring prosperity to citizens have been hampered, however the government has taken bold and politically difficult decisions.

“We took austerity measures and froze government expenditure, eliminated tax exemptions and expanded the net, deregulated the prices of fuel and rationalised agriculture pricing.” As a result, Gilani said the country was beginning to see growth pick up to 4% this year, exports increased by a historic 28% last year and tax revenues have showed a rise of 25% this year.

The PM said the government has made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups and started a social safety net programme that targets the poor, by using modern technology, recognised by international agencies for its transparency and effectiveness. “We have provided Rs800 billion to the provinces for programmes to allow more funding for the social sector.“

He also shared Pakistan’s new growth strategy that focussed on; Preservation of economic stability, fiscal balance and job creation. It also provided incentives for the private sector to compete globally and led to liberal investment regime. He said it allowed foreigners to participate in anyB sector with any level of equity as there were no restrictions on the movement of capital and there were no requirements for local partnership.

Gilani said his country is working to bring improvement in the international relations including India and mentioned the initiatives for deepening economic relations with other countries. He pointed to the tariffs liberalisation with China, a new Transit Trade Agreement with Afghanistan, steps towards MFN for India, and regional projects in gas pipelines and communication.

The prime minister also mentioned his governments renewed focus on climate change and preservation of environment that includes waste management, renewable energy and water conservation. He said to develop a vision for sustainable development it was important to benefit from the experiences of China.

Gilani also thanked the Chinese government for its generous hospitality. China’s support for the Boao Forum reflects its commitment to sustainable development in Asia, he said.

The prime minister said Pakistan and China were bound together by ties that have stood the test of time and recalled that last year the two countries celebrated 60 years of their all-weather friendship.

“Our strategic and economic cooperation continues to deepen,” he added.

Chinese Executive Vice Premier Le Keqiang in his welcome speech said Boao, a small fishing village had now become a major platform for the people to discuss the economies of Asia. He said it showed how deeply Asia and China were connected to work collectively for achieving the goal of sustainable development.

He said Asian economies had shown greater resilience during the European debt crisis and mentioned that new era of technological development in Asia was also in the offing. He said that Asia now accounts to over 35 percent of world’s GDP. But he regretted that overall economic conditions in some Asian countries were not satisfactory.

He also called for concerted efforts of the Asian countries to address all the issues ranging from dealing with the disasters to the development of its people. Maximum convergence of interests and peaceful negotiations are required by the regional countries, he added.

Le Keqiang said China has to play a fundamental role in defining the economy of Asia with a more proactive strategy, welcoming foreign investment, a competitive market place and an open economy.

Italian Prime Minister Marion Monti said Italy was facing the Eurozone crisis and had the apprehensions and hope simultaneously from Asia and America. He called for the European countries especially Germany to change the economic policy mixture, and putting in place more proactive policies for growth which can come more from the supply side. He said even in Europe, there could be a potential of integration again. He said the Eurozone crisis was being mistaken as Euro crisis, which was incorrect.

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov said his country was improving education, health and vocational training for youth besides introduction of small and medium size enterprises. He said Kazakhstan looked forward to enhancing its ties with Asia for a more secure development.

Former prime minister of Japan Yasuo Fukuda in his opening remarks said the most important objective is to attain deeper understanding between the Asian states. He stressed the Asian countries to act together for sound and sustainable development through cooperation in wider areas. He mentioned the European debt crisis and said the Asian economies emerged in a better way.