The leaders of member countries in the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) discussed ways to promote trade and investment opportunities during its 15th Leaders' Summit held in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat on Sunday.
At the summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan handed over the organization's term presidency to his Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
The organization, founded by Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan in 1985 as a follow-up of the Regional Cooperation for Development, was later joined by Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in 1992.
Speaking at the summit, Erdogan delivered remarks on the economic potential of the region, the impact of COVID-19 worldwide, and the issue of Cyprus, as well as terrorism.
“We should make more use of the high potential offered by our geography, which has a population of approximately 500 million in an area of 8 million square kilometers (3.09 million square miles),” Erdogan said.
"We must intensify our efforts to increase our trade volume to the level of $100 billion. In this context, we first must put into effect the trade agreement, ECOTA, which is among the strategic goals of the 2025 Vision document," he added.
Transportation corridors, energy routes
Berdimuhamedow told the summit that ECO members had important duties, such as using their competitive advantages in the formation of new transportation, transit corridors, and energy routes.
"Among the most important priorities of Turkmenistan within the framework of the ECO is the development of cooperation in the fields of transportation and energy," he said.
The Turkmen president underlined that energy and transportation play a decisive role in global economic growth.
Emphasizing the importance of the formation of a multi-transportation corridor, Berdimuhamedow said construction efforts continued for an electricity line along with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, as well as on a railway track from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline.
Stressing that these cross-country corridors would boost trade, he voiced the need for a Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey corridor that starts from Afghanistan, and a Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey corridor, as well as an Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transportation corridor.
With the participation of ECO member states, these large infrastructure projects will be an important factor in the formation of a new geo-economic area on the continent, and will also enable significant social progress, he said.
For his part, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said his country took an active role in the development of east-west and north-south transportation corridors with other countries.
He added that these corridors "will allow Central Asian countries to reach the Persian Gulf via Turkmenistan and Iran."
Meanwhile, Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin pointed out that seven ECO member countries did not have access to the open seas.
"The formation of transportation corridors that complement each other rather than compete in the region will play a key role in the stable growth of our countries' economies," said Mamin.
He noted that Kazakhstan had increased its trade volume with other ECO countries by 31% in January-September this year.
The current trend of strengthening intercontinental transportation corridors is creating great opportunities for ECO countries, added the Kazakh prime minister.
'Connecting Europe with China, Russia'
Speaking at the summit, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said: "Besides having a population of 500 million and a third of the world's energy resources, the ECO is in a unique position to connect Europe with China, Russia, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean."
Raisi expressed Iran's "unconditional" support for the ECO and its activities, adding that "developing relations with South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus countries and neighbors is among Iran's priorities."
He said the revitalization of conventional routes and the facilitation of trade amid the new realities in the Caucasus would contribute to the development of ECO members.
Economic downturn in Afghanistan
Pakistan's President Arif Alvi, on the other hand, touched upon the economic downturn in Afghanistan, warning that the war-torn country could slide into chaos.
He urged Muslim countries to play their part in bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.
Stressing that Pakistan hosts over 3.5 million refugees, Alvi said he was surprised at what he said were those who try to teach Pakistan a lesson in humanity.
Welcoming the activation of the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul corridor, Alvi said ECO members should robustly develop their transportation corridors in accordance with the Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA).
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev also spoke on Afghanistan at the summit, underlining that his country's southeastern neighbor was "going through a serious humanitarian crisis each passing day. Without the help of the international community, including their immediate neighbors, the Afghan people alone cannot pass through these difficult tests."
"Therefore, we must combine our efforts and develop joint approaches to provide the necessary assistance to the Afghan people," added Mirziyoyev.
He also highlighted the need for ECO members to approve a joint action plan aiming to increase and protect mutual investments between countries and deepen industrial cooperation.
Mirziyoyev proposed for ECO countries to work together to achieve "green growth," establishing a permanent High-Level Environment Ministers Dialogue Council for this purpose, with the participation of international environmental scientists and experts.
Leaders of ECO member states also attended a dinner hosted by the Turkmen president.