ISLAMABAD - Minister for Planning, Development & Reforms Ahsan Iqbal Monday said that the country would be able to achieve a 5 percent growth rate this year and would strive for a 6 percent next year.

“In the last three years, the economy has seen a steady growth from 2.5% in 2013 to 4.8% last year, which is the highest growth rate in the last eight years,” Ahsan Iqbal said while addressing Pakistan’s business community at the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The minister said that the ground-breaking ceremony of Diamir Bhasha will be held next year. The minister asked ICCI to partner with government in implementation of CPEC projects. He said ICCI should set up a Cell on CPEC to identify opportunities of joint ventures for private sector in CPEC. He said ICCI should also form a think tank to help government in making future development plans. He said CPEC would be more beneficial to Pakistan than China as it would start a new era of energy and infrastructure development projects in the country. He said CPEC will bring many backward areas of Pakistan into the mainstream of economy and will generate lot of jobs and business activities in such areas.

Ahsan Iqbal said the current government’s economic agenda will play a pivotal role in making Pakistan and economic super power. There was a time when Pakistan’s economic growth reached 6% as a result of dollar inflow and slumped as soon as it stopped, he said. The 60’s, 80’s and 9/11 witnessed this trend. In the 90’s Pakistan developed an economic plan that was later used by India, but unfortunately Pakistan became a victim of political instability, Ahsan Iqbal added. “In 2013 we got another chance to uplift the economy. We will be able to achieve a 5% growth rate this year and will strive for a 6% next year,” the minister said.

Our foreign reserves with $24 billion are the highest in the history of Pakistan. Speaking of war against terrorism, he said that Pakistan is yet to fully overcome terrorism but has made considerable progress and will continue to do so.

Expressing his views on CPEC, he said that CPEC is opening new doors of opportunities for the people of Balochistan. He updated the audience on the improved energy situation in Pakistan and said from 18-20 hours daily loadshedding in 2013, it has come down to 6-8 hours. Ahsan Iqbal said “The biggest ever investment in the country is being made in energy sector, which is $35 billion out of $46 billion portfolio of CPEC.

“In last 67 years we managed to produce only 17,000 MW energy while in only three years we have been able to add 11,000 MW electricity in the national grid’’ said the minister. The electricity generation will be further enhanced up to 30,000MW by 2025 which would help business and industry to flourish.

He said to include Pakistan into top 25 economies of the world; “we have to increase our annual exports to $150 billion and added that private sector has to take the lead to achieve this target.

In his welcome address, Khalid Iqbal Malik, president of Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urged that private sector should be provided maximum opportunities in CPEC project and government should provide same kind of incentives to local investors as were being given to the Chinese investors.

He said the local industry badly needed latest machinery and equipment to modernize and produce value added products, but almost 28 percent aggregate duty on the import of industrial machinery was major hurdle for it. He stressed that government should introduce zero rated import regime for industrial machinery to facilitate the up-gradation of local industry.

He said every year, government allocated billions of rupees for Public Sector Development projects, but either this budget was not fully utilized or diverted to other purpose which proved harmful for the economy. He emphasized that government should avoid this practice and ensure full utilization of PSDP budget to accelerate the economic growth of the country. He said ICCI was striving for a new industrial estate in this region and Planning Commission should include this item in its annual development agenda for materialization of this important project that would help in promoting industrialization, encouraging new investment and promoting jobs. He said private sector should be given due representation in Planning Commission to ensure that all development plans were made with the input its input.