CHINA-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brightened the chances of greater regional connectivity. It seems that revival of the ancient Silk Route has been further consolidated after the successful international conference themed “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities” in Tashkent.
Moreover, Pakistan’s paradigm shift from “geopolitics to geo-economy” and Uzbekistan’s “regional connect policy” are now bearing their socio-economic fruits. While addressing the “Pak-Uzbek Business Forum” Prime Minister Imran Khan showcased the strategic orientation of CPEC which would be used for achieving the desired goals of greater connectivity, socio-economic integration, eradication of poverty, new job generation and last but not the least, stability and harmony in the region.
Prime Minister Imran Khan termed Pakistan’s connectivity with Uzbekistan in trade and bilateral spheres a giant step to open up new avenues of prosperity in the region. He highlighted Pakistan’s immense potential to connect Central Asia with the rest of the world and become a hub of trade.
The Prime Minister assured the businessmen and traders of Uzbekistan that Pakistan will extend all possible facilitations in promotion of trade. He labelled the trans-regional railway project as revolutionary development among Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. He termed regional peace and security essential for socio-economic prosperity. He also called for more frequent flights between Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
He emphasized that the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), banking system, financial cooperation and improvement in customs would open a new era of cooperation between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. He said Pakistani businessmen have come up with a plan for investment in Uzbekistan.
In this regard, the Secretary Board of Investment shared that the negotiations relating to the PTA will be completed in the next two months. The forum was attended by a large number of businessmen from Pakistan (130 delegates) and Uzbekistan (public & private) besides the delegation of the Premier.
More than US$ 500 million agreements were signed between the Pakistan & Uzbek investors and trade houses. Several MoUs and agreements were also signed to strengthen cooperation between the two sides in diverse areas.
These include a protocol on exchange of pre-arrival information on goods moved across the state border, an agreement on transit trade, cooperation in the field of military education and an agreement on simplification of visa procedures for businessmen and tourist groups. Furthermore, an MoU between Pakistan’s Foreign Service Academy and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan was also signed, in addition to a cultural exchange program 2021-2026 and an MoU on tourism.
On its part, Pakistan is expecting to tap the potential $90 billion after the agreement of PTA which will provide all Central Asian States and especially Uzbekistan easy access to Pakistani sea ports, mainly Gwadar Port. Adviser to Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood attended the sixth session of Pakistan-Uzbekistan Joint Ministerial Commission, on July 14, 2021, followed by the Pakistan-Uzbekistan “Silk Route Reconnect” Business Forum on July 15-16.
Uzbekistan is currently highly reliant on the Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas, accessed through Turkmenistan but they also had a transit trade agreement with Afghanistan while Pakistan also had Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
The agreement between Uzbekistan and Pakistan has been negotiated and finalised, covering trade and transit of goods by road and rail along with customs procedures, largely on the pattern of APTTA, which was a comprehensive and time-tested agreement and improved mechanisms. It is hoped that the AUPTT would give access of Pakistani seaports to Uzbekistan and offer access to all five Central Asian States for Pakistani exports.
It would help in enhancing trade and regional connectivity and open doors for increasing Pakistan’s exports to Uzbekistan, while harnessing the potential of a $90 billion market in Central Asia. The APTTA will give access to Pakistan’s trade with Central Asia for taking goods up to the border crossing points of Afghanistan with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, whereas, Pakistan had no arrangement to take exports beyond those points.
As part of the vision of the government, to make Pakistan trade, transit and trans-shipment hub, and enhance regional connectivity with Central Asia, Uzbekistan was offered to use seaports of Pakistan, which would provide them the shortest route for trade, during visit of the Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister to Islamabad in September 2020.
The contours of the bilateral transit trade agreement were further discussed during the meeting of the Joint Working Group on Trade and Economic Affairs at Tashkent in February 2021. The Ministry of Commerce organised 16 technical negotiation sessions with the Uzbek side from April-June 2021.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Communication, Ministry of Law & Justice, Federal Board of Revenue, Department of Plant and Protection (Ministry of National Food Security and Research), Attorney General Office, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Ministry of Railways participated in the sessions. The Commerce Ministry had also provided its input regarding the trade deal with Uzbekistan.
According to highlights of the agreement between the two countries, transit trade between Uzbekistan and Pakistan must take place along pre-determined routes and only utilise specified ports and border crossings.
Uzbekistan and Pakistan were obligated to ensure that suitable infrastructure and personnel were available at border crossings and would provide separate spaces for off-dock terminals and warehousing, at entry/exit points and other customs notified places, on reciprocal basis. Uzbekistan and Pakistan would issue Road Transport Permits on the basis of which transport operators would be able to transport goods through the other country’s territory.
Uzbek trucks would carry goods via Pakistan to seaports rather than having to reload them onto Pakistani trucks at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and vice versa. The Uzbek government would recognise Pakistani driver’s licenses and vehicle registration documents, and vice versa.
The Uzbek and Pakistani governments would expedite and simplify the process for awarding multiple-entry visas to truck drivers from one another’s countries. The Uzbekistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Committee (UPTTCC), which would be established under the AUPTT, would be responsible for monitoring and facilitating the implementation of the agreement.
There will be grievances redressal mechanism and dispute settlement mechanism and arbitration in the agreement to settle disputes between the two countries. Participation of the State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in this important international conference has further strengthened strategic role of CPEC, the flagship project of BRI.
While addressing the event Wang Yi termed connectivity as an unremitting pursuit of human society since ancient times. He showcased that regional connectivity has become a key impetus to development and prosperity in today’s world. He projected the strategic importance of BRI which was initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2013. Now bilateral relations and cooperation between China and Central and South Asian countries have become all the more closer.
He assured that China stands ready to join hands with Central and South Asian countries to forge a closer regional connectivity partnership through high-quality cooperation under the BRI. Being a prominent regional expert on CPEC & BRI I foresee that revival of the ancient “Silk Route” would be easily achieved through the “concept” of greater regional connectivity for which “Pak-Uzbek” cooperation is must.