Pakistan and China on Sunday agreed to formally invite “third-country” investors to be part of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and add social sector and regional development schemes to the existing portfolio of CPEC projects.
The understanding on addition of “two major dimensions” to the CPEC projects came about at a long meeting between the Planning, Development and Reforms Commission of Pakistan and the National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) of China on Sunday.
At the four-hour meeting, the Pakistani team was led by Minister for Planning Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar while the NDRC’s vice-chairman, Ning Jizhe, led the Chinese delegation. Planning Secretary Zafar Hassan, CPEC’s project director Hassan Daud and officials of the NDRC and Chinese Embassy also attended the meeting.
Sources said that Beijing wanted involvement in the upcoming special economic zones (SEZs) of countries friendly to both Pakistan and China because it wished to steer clear of adverse criticism, particularly from the US and India, about possibility of secretive deals that “remain beyond public eye”.
No country was specifically mentioned in this regard and Central Asian, European and other countries including Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia could invest in the nine SEZs proposed, said an official.
Gwadar to be ‘re-prioritised’ as hub of heavy industry
Gwadar would be re-prioritised as a centre of industries for export markets where these countries could invest alone or in partnership with Pakistan or China, to take advantage of the city’s trans-shipment potential and location apart from the free-zone incentives it offered.
The government led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) wished to include in the project portfolio social sector schemes — involving clean drinking water, health, education and technical training — to bring the huge initiative in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s priority areas of human development. This could be done by making some changes in the seven central pillars of the CPEC’s Long Term Plan.
The official, however, agreed that China and Pakistan had so far not been able to settle key issues about development of the Rashakai or Hattar SEZ in the first phase of industrial cooperation. Thus, it would be difficult to attract “third-country” investors immediately.
He insisted that the two sides would work from now on to achieve the big objective and recalled that even the basic issues of CPEC were not settled in the first meeting.
Mr Bakhtiar, he said, had already ordered the relevant agencies to take the various SEZ projects to the groundbreaking stage within three months as a lot of time had already been wasted.
“Realigning the goals of CPEC, Pakistan has introduced new targets of socioeconomic and regional development under this unprecedented mega project,” said the Planning Commission in an official statement.
The minister reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the CPEC and “categorically said that all-out efforts would be made for the success of this project of economic development and prosperity. CPEC is a reality… aimed at initiating a modern era of trade and economic growth”, said the statement.
To achieve the new targets, the government was dedicated to putting all its energies together to make progress at the earliest, said the official.
During the meeting, both the sides said that CPEC — “an icon of the Belt and Road Initiative” — was an engine of rapid growth for Pakistan and a manifestation of the strong Pak-China relations that would continue to promote inclusiveness.
The Pakistani team also told the visiting dignitaries that the PTI-led government accorded top priority to the development of Gwadar as a standalone project. The port city would be transformed into a trans-shipment hub and a centre for industrialisation with special focus on industrial units enjoying incentives that could produce a high rate of return.
The two sides agreed that industrial cooperation should be the main area of attention so that efforts were made to encourage relocation of Chinese industries with a view to increasing exports and maximising employment opportunities.
The Pakistani side said that progress had now been expedited and investors from across the world were being encouraged to populate the SEZs.
Mr Bakhtyar said his government intended to encourage projects based on indigenous sources of energy, including Thar Coal.
On the occasion, Mr Ning praised the PTI-led government’s agenda and its efforts for socioeconomic development of the country. He reiterated the commitment that Chinese companies would effectively work for completion of the CPEC projects.
The two sides also decided to further expedite key development projects in Gwadar and ensure groundbreaking this year of the New Gwadar International Airport, a technical institute and a hospital there.