BANGKOK  - Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has said his government is committed to accelerate digitization of the country to enable socioeconomic development‚ create a knowledge-based economy and promote growth.

In his key-note address at the Connect Asia Pacific Summit 2013‚ which began in Bangkok on Monday morning‚ he said the Pakistani government accords the highest priority to development of information communication technology for the provision of quality services‚ education‚ employment‚ generation and women empowerment.He invited foreign investment in the upcoming spectrum auction for next generation mobile services and establishment of technology parks.

“We invite foreign companies to be our partners in harnessing the rich potential of our country that is open for business and keen on working with international investors,” he said.

Sharif said Pakistan telecom infrastructure now comprises over 125 million mobile connections‚ about three million fixed lines‚ three million WLL subscribers‚ 19.8 million Internet users‚ 15.7 million mobile Internet users and 2.8 million broadband subscribers.

He said the government through Universal Service Fund Company‚ national ICT R&D Fund Company and Virtual University has initiated a range of successful programs to promote ICT opportunities to achieve these goals. He said some of these programs are models and are being replicated by other countries.

The prime minister said that with population of 180 million‚ Pakistan is strategically located on the crossroads of south and central Asia and energy-rich Middle East.

Providing a unique platform for investors‚ eyeing opportunities in the country‚ and the region at large Pakistan offers 100 per cent equity ownership‚ full repatriation of capital and exports until 2016.

He said Pakistan accorded the highest priority to development of information communication technology (ICT) for the provision of quality services, education, employment, generation and women empowerment.

He said the ready availability of skilled professionals, a comprehensive ICT infrastructure, coupled with affordable rates for connectivity and the government’s business-friendly investment policies, made Pakistan an exceptional destination for foreign investors in the ICT sector.

Sharif said the Asia-Pacific region is home to some of the largest and most prosperous economies of the world and contributed 40 per cent of the world’s GDP growth, which is set to grow further.

He said a well-connected ICT and telecommunications infrastructure is one of the major factors contributing to the development of these economies.

He mentioned that the region also has global leaders in the development of e-services and e-applications and is also spearheading technology standardization and equipment manufacturing.

Earlier‚ addressing the summit, UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon said the Asia-Pacific is vast and diverse region‚ which has numerous centers of innovation in manufacturing and Information and Communication Technologies.

He said several nations in the region have experienced rapid economic growth yet there is a stark contrast in prosperity and development between high income countries and the least developed.

Addressing a luncheon meeting of Thai and Pakistani businessmen here, Sharif said he strongly believes that promotion of bilateral and regional trade is one of the most effective ways to promote sustainable economic growth. He said Pakistan desires to comprehensively upgrade the already cordial relations with Thailand in all areas of cooperation. He said Pakistan is pursuing a consistent policy of enhanced regional cooperation through various trade agreements.

“Our foremost emphasis is to upgrade our energy and physical infrastructure. Our government has always been rightly perceived as business-friendly. We also have a strong record of policy measures that have unleashed the potential of private sector in Pakistan,” he added.

He said the government is constantly striving to further improve the business environment to encourage economic progress.

The prime minister said the countries of the region can help each other for reaching markets that are currently not easily accessible. He said Pakistan also provided transit facilities to goods for markets of Afghanistan. Last but not the least, Pakistan wants to initiate FTA negotiations with Thailand and discussions are already underway in this regard.

He said Pakistan has devised investment-friendly policies in order to reduce the cost, and enhance the ease of doing business.

He called upon the business communities of both countries to play a proactive role in achieving this goal.

Presently, more than 600 multi-national companies such as Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Glaxo, Nestle were operating profitably in Pakistan, he added.

The prime minister further highlighted facts about Pakistan’s economy by saying that with a population of 180 million, it has the 6th largest human resource and consumer base in the world.

“We are the 4th largest exporter of rice and 4th largest producer of milk in the world; on the industrial side, Pakistan’s textile industry is amongst the world’s leaders,” he added.     

He said furthermore, Pakistan is fast becoming the destination of choice for a significant number of international information technology companies.

First Lady Bagum Kulsoom Nawaz‚ Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman‚ Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani are accompanying the prime minister.

Addressing a joint news conference with his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra after talks, the prime minister said Pakistan desires to comprehensively upgrade the already cordial relations with Thailand in all areas of cooperation.

He said Vision East Asia is an important component of Pakistan’s policy that complemented Thailand’s ‘Look West Policy’. He said Pakistan and Thailand have common cultural linkages through Gandhara Civilization. “Traditionally, our bilateral relations have always been most cordial and Pakistan desires to comprehensively upgrade these relations in all areas of cooperation.” Sharif recalled Shinawatra’s visit to Pakistan in August this year, which he said, provided a new momentum to bilateral ties between the two countries.

He said bilateral trade has already crossed one billion dollar mark and efforts will be made to double the figure in next five years. Pakistan, he said, offered attractive investment opportunities.  “We have invited Thai private businesses to invest in Pakistan, in various sectors, including infrastructure development, energy, auto parts manufacturing, food processing, packaging, germs and jewellery as well as tourism industry.”

He emphasised the importance of people-to-people contacts as one of the most important aspects of bilateral relations and said the number of Pakistani tourists visiting Thailand was increasing steadily.

The two sides, the prime minister said, had also agreed on the need to enhance and deepen cooperation in the regional and multilateral frameworks.

The Thai Prime Minister said her country wanted to promote trade and investment links with Pakistan.

She said Thai private companies would make investment in Pakistan’s energy sector. She also appreciated Pakistan’s contribution to Connect Asia Pacific Summit.