ISLAMABAD - Federal Minister for Planning, Development & Reform Ahsan Iqbal has said that development of special economic zones (SEZs) is the most important phase of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which would prove as a milestone in relocation of Chinese industries and flourishing of Pakistan’s local enterprises.

The minister expressed these view while speaking to a high-level Chinese delegation at Planning Commission here on Tuesday. The 60-member delegation was headed by Li Xuedong, Deputy Director General, Department of International Affairs, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of the People’s Republic of China, comprises of senior officials from NDRC, National Railway Administration, Chinese investors and representatives of China EXIM Bank and China Development Bank.

Ahsan said that One Belt One Road vision has connected Europe, Asia and Africa. “CPEC, the flagship project of Belt and Road Initiative is helping to improve infrastructure and overcome power outages in the country, thus removing the main two bottlenecks, faced by Pakistan’s economy,” he added. He said that the industrial cooperation between Pakistan and China would help relocate Chinese industries, creating thousands of job opportunities, transfer of knowledge and expertise.

He said the development of Gwadar is top priority of the government. “Construction of New Gwadar Airport and East Bay Expressway, the two significant projects, would ensure development of this port city,” he added. The minister vowed fast track implementation of hospital, technical institute and water supply project in Gwadar.

Ahsan highlighted the need of speedy completion of Gwadar city master plan for planned development of this international town, besides establishing linkages of Gwadar University with any reputed institute of China to impart knowledge in marine and maritime sectors.

The minister informed that steps are underway to include Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) initiative of linking 50 top local universities with Chinese universities. “This project would help in transfer of knowledge and experiences in different sectors, helping Pakistan to develop its academic curriculum on modern line to meet international standards,” he added.

He further said that Pakistan’s Railway Main Line-1 from Karachi to Peshawar upgradation project is likely to commence this year. “This mega project would support to build and upgrade the backbone of transport infrastructure in Pakistan” he added.

The minister further appreciated the Chinese government’s steps for signing CPEC long term. He said that long term plan of CPEC would identify areas of cooperation between the two countries till 2030. He said that the project started from MoU in 2013, turns as a biggest and flagship project of the world, wherein Pakistan has succeeded in implementation of infrastructure, energy and Gwadar related projects with the support of Chinese side.

On the occasion, Xuedong said that basic aim of the visit is to discuss industrial cooperation, implementation of Gwadar projects and Pakistan Railway's up gradation of Main Line-1 under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He said that every possible effort will be made to ensure timely completion of all the CPEC projects.

Meanwhile, a meeting was held in Ministry of Railways between Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) DG Li Xuedoung. The meeting discussed the implementation of upgradation of ML-I and methodology of financing.

During the meeting, Xuedoung said that work on CPEC projects had seen positive progress over the past three years. The ML-I up-gradation plan joining Peshawar to Karachi formed a significant part of CPEC’s improvement and it would benefit people especially along the route and contribute to economic and social development of Pakistan. ML I is Key priority on the working agenda and NDRC takes a complete view of the venture which is a huge upgradation project, he added. He said that NDRC would make its due contribution to CPEC’s development.

According to Saad, ML-I project will engender employment and speed up the development in the country. NDRC and NRA is helping Pakistan Railways in rehabilitation/improvement of existing track that will follow the existing alignment except at locations where sharp curves are to be eased out or eliminated to allow higher speed up to 160 Km/h. This delegation will inspect sections of Lahore-Multan and Lahore- Rawalpindi.

During their four day visit, the Chinese delegation will hold meetings with Pakistani leaders, business community and review the economic zones . The provincial governments will also brief the delegates about their SEZs and their investment plans.