The three-day Belt and Road Forum held in China and attended by leaders of 38 nations has concluded. Agreements involving projects costing $64 billion were signed on the occasion. Pakistan and China have now entered discussions to finalize the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Prime Minister Imran Khan was one of only seven foreign leaders requested to address the Forum. He also met President Xi and Vice President Wang Qishan and discussed bilateral issues. The presence of Russian and Italian leaders accorded the Forum a political importance in addition to its economic value.
Pakistan has much to gain from the international forum, where its eastern neighbor India was conspicuous by its absence. Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly called on Indian leadership to consider joining the Forum for regional prosperity and more collaborative initiatives. The government may also have gained points in terms of domestic politics as it was reported to have persuaded the Chinese government to prioritize its projects. The phased programme has been under deliberation for seven years. Most of the programme components were thus based on projects favoured by the previous governments. The government will do well to discuss its plans on the floor of the parliament so that a consensus can be built in their support. Openness about development projects involving foreign funding makes for a clear roadmap and a secure future.
Once the prime minister is back in the country, he should brief the nation on the gains of the first phase of the CPEC and about plans for the second phase. The previous government drew a lot flak for allegedly disregarding the concern for transparency. This threatened to drive a wedge between the provincial and federal governments and the PTI-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was often seen leading the protests. The information shared so far with the media indicates that the next phase is mainly about industrial cooperation, development of special economic zones, private sector investment and joint ventures. The second phase agreements include a free trade accord, the Main Line-1 railway upgrade and the establishment of Havelian Dry Port, cooperation in marine sciences, implementation of projects on socioeconomic development, China-Pakistan Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement and Rashakai SEZ joint venture.
The FTA will open 90 per cent of the Chinese markets for Pakistani goods. Pakistani exporters are very excited about this. Last year, the Chinese share of Pakistani markets was $11.458 billion while Pakistani exports to China were a mere $1.744 billion. The new FTA is expected to increase Pakistani exports by $500 million. In itself this is not huge but an open access to Chinese markets might benefit Pakistani traders in other ways.