ISLAMABAD - The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) countries have agreed to double the trade volume among the member states from the current $60 billion to $120 billion.

The announcement was made by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Sartaj Aziz in a press conference here, at the end of the 28th Meeting of the Regional Planning Council (RPC) of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) that was held from 11th to 14th December.

The meeting was attended by Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Pakistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. The Turkish Cypriot State and the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States attended the meeting as observers. The ECO specialized agencies, regional institutions and affiliated bodies were also present during the meeting. The delegation of the ECO Secretariat was led by ECO Secretary General, Ambassador Halil Ibrahim Akca.

Flanked by ECO Secretary General Halil Ibrahim, Sartaj Aziz said that energy cooperation and connectivity among ECO countries is indispensable to achieve the goal of sustainable development. He said that feasibility study of the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul corridor has been completed and under the plan the container train will connect these ECO countries through the corridor.

He said that for the trade promotion among the member countries it has been decided that an ECO Reinsurance Company (ECORC) will be established. The headquarters of the ECO Reinsurance Company will be at Karachi. Besides, the meeting of the ECO trade ministers will be held on January 23-24 at Islamabad which will finalize their recommendations for the enhancement of the trade among the member states. The recommendations will be approved in the ECO Foreign Minister Council meeting to be held in Dushanbe, Deputy Chairman Planning commission added.

He said that energy cooperation and connectivity among ECO countries is indispensable to achieve the goal of sustainable development. In energy sector, two projects, TAPI and CASA-1000, are already under implementation, while work can also be started on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. He said preparations have also been made for ECO regional energy market.

Sartaj Aziz said, during the recent ECO meeting, different topics were discussed with particular reference to peace and security within region.

Replying a question on CPEC, Secretary General ECO said that ECO member states can benefit from the CPEC, however they cannot join it as it was bilateral project between Pakistan and China. He said that the connectivity between the ECO members is getting improved. He said that the current trade volume among the member states is $60 billion which is mainly due to connectivity issues. Now the connectivity has improved and steps are being taken to enhance the trade. The Secretary General thanked and appreciated Pakistan for hosting the landmark 28th RPC Meeting. He provided a comprehensive overview of activities of ECO during 2017. He said that holding of the 13th ECO Summit and the 22nd COM Summit at Islamabad were the main highlights of the year.

Earlier, the ECO Secretary General in his statement informed that the ECO Vision 2025 approved earlier this year was a major achievement for the Organization as this will help in realizing the overarching objectives of the ECO. He especially mentioned the achievement of the ECO namely, the formation of ECO Reinsurance Company in Karachi and establishment of Customs Anti-smuggling Database in Ankara. In the transport sector, he mentioned the establishment of a Working Group to follow up the decisions of Second ICT Ministerial Meeting. He also informed the meeting about the four commercialization studies for the East-West and North-South corridors of ECO region.

During the Regional Planning Council (RPC) meeting eight committees discussed various issues related to trade & investment, transport & communications, energy, minerals & environment, agriculture, industry & tourism, projects, economic research & statistics, human resources & sustainable development, drugs & organized crime coordination, ECO bodies and international relations. Various activities relating to these areas for 2018 were proposed and approved.

Earlier, Ministerial Segments of the RPC were inaugurated by Sartaj Aziz. In his opening remarks, Sartaj Aziz highlighted the importance of the regional cooperation and integration. He stressed that the ECO member countries need to enhance their economic linkages. The deputy chairman called for the implementation of the decisions taken during the 13th ECO Summit and 22nd COM. He called for formulating the ECO policies and programmes in line ECO Vision 2025. He highlighted the significance of the RPC meeting and called upon the participants for adopting holistic approach for enhancement of economic cooperation to achieve economic prosperity. He was unanimously elected as the chairman.

The ministerial meeting adopted the ECO Work Programme 2018 along with ECO Calendar of Events 2018 and called upon the member states to actively participate in implementation of this Programme.