Instead of opposing, PTI likely to back CPEC plan
ISLAMABAD: Concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have heightened as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as winner in the 2018 general elections.
Experts are discussing the future of CPEC and its relevance for the incoming government’s economic and social development agenda.
PTI, which was accused by the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government of not endorsing CPEC, will now take reins of the country. It is being debated that the party may veer away from CPEC and cause problems in Pakistan-China relations.
However, these observations seem unfounded as the PTI in the past had exhibited a pragmatic and positive approach towards CPEC. Party Chairman Imran Khan has met the Chinese ambassador and his teams several times where he has been briefed on all aspects of CPEC and the importance of China for Pakistan.
Even in his victory speech, Imran specifically talked about China’s development model. He described CPEC as one of the best models to bring people out of poverty and assured the nation that the PTI would take it as an opportunity for the development of Pakistan.
The project also provides an opportunity to Pakistan to raise prospects of investment flows from other countries and investors.
Moreover, CPEC supports the PTI manifesto in which the party promises to create 10 million jobs for youth and marginalised communities in a span of five years.
In CPEC’s Long-Term Plan, a huge investment is envisaged in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for the development of industry and business. Industry, commerce and entrepreneurship will be the main areas of focus under the umbrella of SEZs, which will generate employment opportunities for skilled and unskilled labour.
I believe the PTI has already comprehended this reality and conducted research on how to benefit from it. The SEZ in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) is at the most advanced stage compared to other economic zones. The Long-Term Plan also includes skills development for capitalising on CPEC-related opportunities and job provision. China is already investing in skills development in Pakistan and prominent examples are a vocational training institute in Gwadar and a joint venture in Lahore.
Governments of China and Punjab established the skills development institute in Lahore and Tianjin University is helping to make it one of the best campuses in Pakistan. The Gwadar institute is serving many objectives as it not only imparts skills to people, but also helps to integrate the local community in the mainstream. China is providing thousands of scholarships to Pakistani students in an effort to develop a pool of skilled labour for the future.
PTI has promised to invest more in skills development as it did in K-P over the past five years. It heavily invested in education and health as both were fundamental for skills and human capital development.
Human capital, equipped with skills, is the basic element for fostering economic growth and development and improving the life of poor and marginalised communities. However, we have to wait for a few months to evaluate the performance of PTI at the national level.
The PTI is a proponent of meaningful engagement of the private sector. Similarly, CPEC offers an opportunity under the SEZs to strengthen the role of private sector of both countries. It also provides opportunities for private sector of the two sides to interact directly. SEZs are crucial for enhancing economic development and expanding the export base of the country.
Pakistan has been facing a rapidly growing trade deficit as exports have not increased markedly over the years. PTI’s priority is to reverse the trend and in this regard SEZs will provide an opportunity to address the challenge on a sustainable basis.
Engaging local communities termed necessary
Farming and tourism
Agriculture is another area of major concern for the PTI with a plan to focus on its development and sustainability. China has agreed to assist Pakistan in research and application of technology in this area.
Moreover, it will invest in helping Pakistan cope with climate change that threatens agricultural harvests. PTI can learn from China and implement its strategies through CPEC projects and programmes.
PTI also gives equal importance to enhancing tourism and eco-tourism in Pakistan. During its tenure in K-P, the party invested in promoting tourism and developed new areas.
Imran has emphasised the need for developing the tourism industry according to modern standards.
CPEC also provides an opportunity as it specifically talks about tourism-related activities in Gilgit-Baltistan and coastal areas of Gwadar. Tourism will help create a soft image of Pakistan and alleviate poverty in these areas, which is the top priority of PTI.
It appears that PTI’s manifesto complements CPEC’s Long-Term Plan, therefore, there is no need to worry.
However, one area will require special attention of the incoming government which is economic and institutional reforms. Institutional reforms will be the key to determining the CPEC’s fate.
PTI will have to devise a new investment policy and make it easier to do business in the country.
At present, Pakistan is at a very low level on the doing business table. Potential investors have to deal with a number of departments and institutions to get approval for starting a business, which discourages international investors.
Furthermore, most of the facilities or incentives, offered in the policy framework, are hard to achieve. Therefore, PTI will have to invest much time and energy in making investment, trade and industrial policies most competitive and business-oriented.
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First step should be to bring investment-related departments and institutions under one roof to offer a one-window facility. Currently, many problems are faced due to a complicated process and involvement of multiple stakeholders at different levels.
All stakeholders have their own priority lists and there is scant coordination among them. It is a global rule if you have to attract foreign investment, you have to make business process simple and easy.
Secondly, there should be transparency and accountability. The government will have to ensure business opportunities for everyone and on equal terms. It will have to assure Chinese businesses that their investment is safe.
The government of China can invest on the basis of close and friendly relations between the two countries. However, the private sector requires investor-friendly environment and facilitation at all levels.
Pakistan can learn from China how it attracted foreign investment over the past four decades. There is a ray of hope as Asad Umar is tipped to be the finance minister of the incoming setup. He believes in institutional reforms and strengthening the private sector for rapid economic growth and development. Therefore, we can expect a better approach and improvement in existing practices.
Pakistani and Chinese businessmen are eager to invest and there is a need to provide them a better playing ground. One prominent example is the Haier-Ruba Economic Zone in Lahore. The zone has performed well despite all odds and difficulties. Good policies can accelerate the flow of investment and create more ventures.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.