We are living in interesting times when the global economic order is shifting rapidly. It is argued that the epoch of free trade is over and so is the concept of globalisation that the neo liberal economic wave brought with itself during the 70s and in the successive decades. Interestingly, many global events point to this trend - Brexit in Europe, Trump winning the White House, rise of far right leaders like Marine Le Pen in France threatening the unity of European Union and a potential collapse of a single market. All these events signal a global trend towards protectionism and nativism and a growing aversion to integrated and deregulated economies. There might be some merit to their arguments as there are certain drawbacks in FTAs for developed economies like job losses, but smaller economies like us have not yet fully tapped into the prospects that free trade has to offer and we were caught in a limbo of indecision.
All the major economies thrived with free trade and found new, vibrant markets for their products, causing their respective economies to grow with unprecedented speed. China's miraculous rise as a major global economic power is partly due to the opening up of world markets through free trade. It's a subtle and delicate art to create space for your products and services internationally and having a mutually beneficial relationship.
The Economic Cooperation Organization or ECO provides us this unique opportunity of sustainable development by progressive removal of trade barriers and promotion of intra-regional trade and gradual integration of the economies of the member states with the world economy. No economy can survive in isolation; we have to be integrated in such a way that best suits our national interest, for ill-conceived free trade agreements have the potential of opening up the native economy to competition so fierce that it can hardly resist.
ECO, a Eurasian political and economic inter-governmental organization, was founded in 1985 in Tehran by the leaders of Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. By the fall of 1992, the ECO expanded to include seven new member states: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It provides a platform to discuss ways to improve development and promote trade and investment opportunities.
ECO provides a fantastic opportunity for all the member states to focus on developing trade ties and benefit with the close integration of economies. In the wake of massive investments by China in the landmark OBOR - One Belt, One Road- Project that is about to reshape the global trade and shift alliances, the ECO region can benefit a lot since it is the very land on which the ancient silk route is being reincarnated. Huge infrastructural improvements in the region can undoubtedly benefit trade and remove the unofficial trade barriers like lack of proper road and rail links and lack of connectivity. One of the flagship projects of OBOR, the CPEC, will also assist the efforts of energising intra-regional trade when opening up markets in the Europe and Americas seems a daunting task.
While FTAs like TPP, NAFTA and TTIP are in jeopardy which can slow down the global trade, we can focus on regional integration to achieve the goal of economic development and growth.
The 13th Meeting of the ECO Heads of State will be hosted by Pakistan on 1st March 2017. The summit will be preceded by the 22nd Meeting of the ECO Council of Foreign Ministers (COM) on 28th February. A great opportunity is knocking at our doors and we must make full use of it. Opportunities are like fleeting clouds that wait for none; so one should be ready to avail it once it presents itself. Enough years have been wasted, standing in the sprawling desert of indecisiveness. Now is the time to act and make full use of this potential.
The Summit is expected to review the state of affairs of ECO in the light of the new and emerging global and regional circumstances and agree on the course of actions ECO should follow in expanding regional economic cooperation among its member states. The new ECO Vision 2025 is also expected to be adopted in Islamabad meetings. Let's proactively capitalise on the economic potentials that ECO has to offer.