There is more than one reason to celebrate as Pakistan enters yet another year since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreements were signed.
As per the development agenda set under Vision 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Pakistan is progressing towards mutuality of interest and vision of a shared politico-economic future. In the run-up to parliamentary elections, our macroeconomic performance is showing a positive growth outlook development-wise. The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report ‘Global Economic Order Change’ has forecast Pakistan to be the 20th largest economy by 2030, and the 16th largest by 2050 at the current GDP growth rate. This is one of the indicators acknowledging the transformational process that commenced with the inception of CPEC.
In China, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has set the economic growth target of 6.5 percent for 2018 together with other goals, such as achieving an inflation rate of three percent and reducing poverty. Pakistan is also looking forward to development in its agriculture sector. The current GDP growth rate of more than 5.3 percent, coupled with the on-going rapid progress of CPEC projects, offers a strong possibility that achieving the economic targets set up under Vision 2025 may not be a distant dream but a reality.
The year 2017 witnessed a flurry of activities and productivity for CPEC. Several Early Harvest Projects (EHPs) were commissioned including the 1,320 MW Sahiwal and 1,300 MW Port Qasim coal-fired power plant projects, establishment of the Consortium of Business Schools, finalisation of the design of the New Gwadar International Airport, groundbreaking of the Gwadar East Bay Expressway, and above all, the completion of the Gwadar Port Phase-I and inauguration of the Gwadar Free Zone.
The recent groundbreaking of the Water Desalination Plant Project adds to these achievements and shows the government’s commitment to ensuring provision of basic utilities to the region. Besides, the commencement of regular cargo-shipping service by COSCO signals that the Gwadar Port is operational. As CPEC continues to cast a revolutionary effect across a broad spectrum of socio-economic aspects, the remarkable transformation of Gwadar from a small fishing village to a world class international port city, in a short span of five years, is a lofty achievement and augurs a promising future for all, but specifically the local Baloch.
Importantly, the launch of the ‘Long Term Plan of CPEC (2017-2030)’ (LTP) is a significant milestone in the planning component of this mega regional initiative. This manifests that the corridor is being advanced mutually by both the countries through across-the-board extensive prospective planning. The LTP also underpins the fact that consistency in planning will be maintained throughout the project’s final execution.
Currently 22 CPEC projects worth around $27 billion are under various phases of implementation. The completion of key power and infrastructure projects has done away with the critical bottlenecks hampering the country’s growth. Apart from this, the government is also focused on developing the main constituent of economic growth – advancing industrial cooperation for less developed regions of Pakistan to also enjoy the fruits of CPEC. The federal government through the Board of Investment (BoI) is leading the phase of industrial cooperation in complete coordination with the respective provincial and regional governments.
Among the nine prioritised Special Economic Zones (SEZs) being developed across the country, the government has endeavoured to inaugurate two to three SEZs in the coming few months. Notwithstanding the exhaustive efforts of the federal and provincial governments, the phase of industrial cooperation also requires concerted efforts of the respective government agencies as well as of the business and industrial community. Only a sustainable and advanced industrial base can lead to the accomplishment of economic objectives associated with CPEC.
The supplementary role of the Higher Education Commission as well as of the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) and the provincial technical education and vocational training authorities (TEVTAs), for fulfilling the needs of productive human capital, has been imperative to the future advancement of industrial cooperation in the right stead. In pursuit of the same goal, the BoI has shared the plans with the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) China, to seek cooperation on vocational training in Pakistan. It is expected that Chinese experts will soon submit their proposal of cooperation in this sector.
The progress of CPEC projects is expected to gain further momentum with the upcoming arrival of Chinese experts in the fields of agriculture, oil and gas, energy and SEZs. A wide range of discussions will be held to identify the potential and possibilities of new projects and joint ventures in these vital areas. In the current phase of CPEC implementation, the government is focusing on exploring new possibilities of cooperation in the fields of industry, trade and logistics, communications, oil and gas, agriculture, water resource management and coastal tourism.
In the run-up to 2030, the main drivers of growth must be technology, rapid and uninterrupted communication, trained human resource, trans-frontier supply chains and integrated regional economic hubs. In this regard, the HEC can prove instrumental by advancing the ongoing educational collaboration and exploring and filling the gaps in our knowledge vis-a-vis CPEC projects. The HEC’s aim should be to expand the capacity of existing universities, establish new higher education institutes, establish science technology and innovation (STI) parks, and support provinces in vocational and technical training by establishing skill development institutes to develop quality faculty.
Besides focusing on industry, the government is also giving due attention to planned development of the agriculture sector. Agricultural development and poverty alleviation constitute the sixth pillar of the LTP, which seeks to transform the sector by introducing innovative and scientific techniques in livestock breeding. The programme also focuses on developing low-yield lands as well as irrigation system and flood-management measures in Pakistan. The development of agriculture sector along modern lines will help maximise the yield of agriculture products and diversify our processed food exports.
In essence, our focus should also remain on strengthening technical exchange and cooperation in crop seed development and reproduction, livestock and poultry breeding, processing of agricultural products, animal and plant epidemic prevention and agricultural mechanisation. We should also have an ICT-enabled agriculture sector. The sub-group on agriculture currently being established has a daunting task. However, there is much that Pakistan can learn from Chinese experts and carry out some meaningful restructuring to achieve a win-win situation for all in the shortest possible time.
The ultimate objective of CPEC is peace, prosperity and well-being of the people. Thus, it is our collective responsibility to remain vigilant and embrace this positive change.
The writer is a civil servant and project management specialist.
He teaches project management in various universities.