The Connect Asia-Pacific Summit

561

In socio-economic development, digitization’s role is critical

Pakistan is on an extensive shuttle diplomacy. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the Commonwealth moot in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on November 15-17. Later, on the invitation of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, he paid an official visit to Thailand on November 17-19. The other purpose of the visit was to attend the Connect Asia-Pacific Summit (CAPS) in Bangkok on November 18 where he made the key-note address.

The conference was being jointly organized by the Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in close partnership with the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT), Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD), World Health Organization (WHO), the UN system, and other stakeholders. This was the fifth in a series of regional Summits.

By bringing together the key global and regional players in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector, the Connect Asia-Pacific Summit, inter alia, sought to provide a platform for mobilizing human, financial, and technical resources needed to support sustainable ICT growth, which is widely recognized as the key engine and enabler for future economic prosperity and sustainable development.

The ICT will in return contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond. The Summit addressed the need for robust infrastructure to improve access to ICTs and discuss the critical role of digitization and broadband in socio-economic development.

The ICT tends to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, and promote gender equality and empowerment of women. It also aims to reduce child mortality, combat malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Ensuring environmental sustainability, public safety, and development of global partnerships for sustainable development are other goals of the ICT.

Most Asian countries have no means of protecting the digital assets of their citizens and institutions. China, India, Russia and a number of other countries are calling for a new global entity under the UN to oversee Internet policy and governance, as the Internet has become vital for communication, commerce, culture, research, and social connections. Pakistan also faced many of these challenges and intends to address them to achieve a sustained development.

Pakistan Telecom infrastructure is comprised over 125 million mobile connections, about 3 million fixed lines, 3 million WLL subscribers, 19.8 million Internet users, 15.7 million mobile Internet users and 2.8 million broadband subscribers. Speaking to the Summit, Prime Minister Sharif asked for an extensive investment in all sectors of the economy including ICT, which is rapidly flourishing. He said that Pakistan offered hundred per cent equity ownership, full repatriation of capital and dividends, and income tax exemption on IT exports until 2016. He invited IT professionals and investors to harness the country’s rich potential in the field.

Pakistan must play a decisive role based upon the long-term growth of ICT and invest in its public and private infrastructure. This will create new strategy for growth, innovation, and social development. Through mobile broadband technology, we can expand our GDP and speedily bridge the poverty difference by creating a digital society in a shortest possible time.

Bilaterally, Pakistan and Thailand enjoy close and friendly relations over a longer period of time. Both the people have been enjoying relations since the ancient times. The Ghandhara civilization bonds cultural ties between the two people as Ghandhara has been a cradle of Buddhist Civilization over 1000 years and embraced East Asia in its religious fold.

In August, Prime Minister Shinawatra visited Pakistan. Both countries are keen to deepen their ties in multiple areas of cooperation. These visits are designed to achieve these goals. Prime Minister Sharif stated in Bangkok that ‘Vision East Asia is an important component of Pakistan’s policy that complements Thailand’s Look West Policy’. He pointed out that in order to promote trade and investment, both countries should utilize each other’s geo-strategic locations.

Thailand is an integral part of the ASEAN process and plays an important role in the organization’s activities. Pakistan’s growing ties with Thailand would enhance with the region in the framework of Vision East Asia evolved in 2004. Much work has been not done but there is a need to achieve these goals.

Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Thailand is around US$ 1,084 million as recorded in 2011 with only US$ 106 million Pakistan’s exports to Thailand. Exports have only risen to US$ 44 million during 2007-11. Thailand ranked the fourth largest destination of Pakistan’s exports in that region after Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Imports from Thailand were recorded around US$ 977.64 million in 2011 that also ranked Thailand s the fourth largest exports market for Pakistan’s goods in that region. Both countries made commitment to double trade in next five years.

Pakistan’s exports to ASEAN constituted 3.2 percent of its entire exports in 2011 while Pakistan imports increased to 16.3 percent of its total imports from this region for the same period. Trade must be given a boost and much more institutionalization needed to be done. For this purpose, both sides have been continuing negotiations for the conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). They foresee huge benefits from FTA.

In the ASEAN region, Pakistan has already signed the FTA with Malaysia, China, and Sri Lanka. Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) have been signed with Indonesia, Iran and Mauritius. Negotiations are already underway to sign PTA with Turkey.

While regional PTAs have been inked with South Asia and Central Asia, Gulf region is another potential area for Pakistan to sign the PTA/FTA. Pakistan desires to sign similar agreements with other ASEAN partners including Thailand. The recent establishment of the Joint Trade Committee and Joint Business Council is a right step to cultivate strong economic ties between the two countries.

Thai companies will find more lucrative business in Pakistan, while country’s exports will increase in Thailand. Gems, jewellery, auto parts, fisheries, energy, and the service sector are some of promising areas for mutual cooperation. Pakistan intends to forge a close relationship with ASEAN. The region supplied 16.3 percent of Pakistan’s import requirements, while Pakistan’s exports constituted 3.2 percent to the region in 2011.

ASEAN’s investment in Pakistan had been quite meager with US$ 124 million from Singapore and US$ 15 million from Malaysia that was about 4.9 percent of Pakistan’s total investment fetched in 2010. Investment by other ASEAN members was not made. There is a need that trading and investment relations between Pakistan and ASEAN should be strengthened and recent bilateral visits between Pakistan and Thailand should be seen in this context.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.