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November 27, 2017

CPEC in the long term


November 27, 2017

It has been hard to keep track of progress on the much-heralded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Much of the fine print has evaded the public eye. Some concrete progress has now been made on paper as the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee approved the CPEC Long-Term Plan. Despite the broad range of agreements, there are a number of key areas that remain complicated. No agreement has been managed regarding development projects and special economic zones. Moreover, the Chinese delegation has also warned that political instability in Pakistan could negatively impact how the project progresses. Key areas of dispute include the Hattar Industrial Estate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the KP government itself seems to have different priorities. The broad scope of the agreements covers cooperation between Pakistan and China till 2030. Out of the $35 billion in investments in the energy sector, almost $27 billion of these are in implementation stage. In principle, it seems Pakistan is set to have surplus electricity production capacity within the next five years, but this is unlikely to translate into the end of the power crisis as the structural problems in the electricity sector remain.
Although state officials have shared details on the agricultural part of the CPEC plan publically for the first time, details remain sketchy. A joint working group on agriculture has been formed. The aim seems to be to move out of low-value commodities so as to introduce technological advancements, including drip agriculture. This is an issue that is more complicated than it looks – and more detail should be provided before any serious comment can be made. Progress on the Gwadar Port’s development remains a priority with the PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi already having inaugurating the Gwadar Eastbay Expressway. The Karachi Circular Railway project has been delayed, and the Daimer-Basha dam has also not been included in the agreements. Nine special economic zones are included in the plan

but this is another issue that requires that the terms of the agreements be made public. The agreement in principle to share the LTP publically has not been followed by a promise of a specific date for when it will be published in full. The Chinese foreign ministry has expressed its confidence in Pakistan’s ability to execute CPEC. Progress on CPEC has been slow, yes – but there has been progress. Promising as it all sounds, the one thing that will help everyone is more clarity on the initiative.

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