ISLAMABAD    -   Prime Minister’s Adviser for Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Hussain has said that both India and Pakistan have the trade potential of $37 billion, which could be proved a powerful engine for the shared prosperity and to reduce inequalities in the region.

He was speaking at the concluding ceremony of 21st Sustainable Development Conference followed by 11th South Asia Economic Summit organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute here on Friday.

“We need to invest in science and technology to tap the potential of 4th industrial revolution, otherwise, we will lag behind,” he suggested.

“The challenge for us today is to invest in labour productivity in services and agriculture sector. For that we have to invest in human development.”

Dr Ishrat said that inequalities, such as gender, income, and social, coupled with poverty are hindering development and growth of the regional countries.

He stressed the need for improving the quality of education in Pakistan so as to create the job opportunities. Talking about bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, Dr Isharat suggested improving barter system between the two countries to improve the status of producers and consumers.

SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said during the four-day long two mega events around 40 different session were organised, where issues such as trade, peace, climate change, poverty, left politics, SDGs, health, education, fiscal decentralization, charter of economy, agriculture and role of media were discussed in detail. He said the economic corridors, trade or strategic corridors can only be successful unless we have knowledge corridors in the region. He said the SDPI always tried to be the part of solutions and help governments in providing evidence based advice to policy makers. He called upon the political parties to reduce the political tensions and evolve consensus on issue of public interest. He said social mobilisation programmes should be research-backed wherein all the stakeholders should be actively engaged to ensure sustainable development.

Former Interior Minister and PML-N MNA Prof Ahsan Iqbal said that we are passing through the age of digital revolution where artificial intelligence is reshaping the future of this world. “At the moment, when inequality is growing at an alarming level, we have to ensure that every single person of the society has the access to information and communication technology to fight inequalities.”

He said that in this changing world of ICT, we should not be myopic but to adapt to the changes. He said that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will impact the lives of most vulnerable people and under CPEC, through, Higher Education Commission (HEC), they had started the knowledge corridor by partnering with 50 Chinese universities on the programmes which are relevant to Pakistan’s economic needs. To further harness the potential of regional connectivity, we need stronger connections on trade, culture and technologies among regional countries, he said

PPP leader Senator Sherry Rehman said that peace within and peace without should be our objective while moving towards regional cooperation and connectivity, which would help Pakistan and other countries of the region to grow and develop. India and Pakistan have no option but to talk on all unresolved issues including Kashmir, she said, adding that there is consensus among all the political parties in Pakistan to have peace talks with India.

“We have history of starting and stopping the talks, and walk-out from the peace talks would not help any country. Visa free corridors like Kartarpur Corridor can help bring peace in the region despite political differences. We must look at the peace to harness the potential of regional cooperation.” She said the knowledge across the borders should not retain within the governments whereas it must reach out to the people of the region. Development can only be sustainable when it responds to the local and vulnerable of the society, she maintained.

Earlier, speaking at a session titled: Fiscal Decentralization: Gaps and Challenges, former Finance Minister Dr Hafiz A. Pasha stressed the need for showing political maturity that what he said “we all require as a nation”. He added that federal front needs to have high degree of rationalisation for fiscal decentralisation.

Dr Kaiser Bengali, Chairman of Sindh Education Foundation (SEF), discussing the NFC Award, 18th Constitutional Amendment and the imbalance between federal and provincial governments said that federal government was the looser of the 7th NFC Award. He said richest 10% of the population pays 10% of income tax while poorest 10% of the population pays 16% of income tax.

Prof Dr Jan Werner from Cologne Business School, Germany said there are two ways of centralisation, i.e. horizontal and vertical and Germany is adopting these ways in tackling problems related to the implementation of fiscal policies. He said that Pakistan should not do too much and start new initiatives as it doesn’t have many incentives.

Sanjeev Pokharel, Chief Technical Adviser, Kathmandu, Nepal, talked about the revenues sharing in Nepal’s Nascent Federalism. Further, he discussed about the advancement in Nepal since its formation.

Speaking at a concurrent session titled: Rightsizing the Health Warning Tobacco Control Initiative Senator Mian Muhammad Ateeq Sheikh said while making policies we forget that we need to take onboard the real stakeholders; in this case the tobacco producers should implement laws regarding the limited use of tobacco in the country. He argued that the newly-levied sin tax has caused a lot of social backlash and he was personally of the opinion that in Pakistan the main hurdle has been the ineffectiveness to implement policies because of the strong position these entities hold because of the leverage they get by paying heavy taxes.

Saadiya Razzaq, Health Economist and Member of the Population Council, showed concerns about the availability of illegal brands of cigarettes in and around the areas of Islamabad. She recommended that the ban and taxes should not only be limited to smoking tobacco but also on the chewing tobacco.