KARACHI: Pakistan needs to focus on technical training and skills development on an urgent basis in order to get maximum return from China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or else China would continue to bring in its own labour, said Dr Shahida Wizarat, an independent economist and academic, at a seminar on Saturday.

“We need to be technically trained in order to get as much return from the project as we can. We can’t expect a return if China brings in its own labour and we don’t have the skills to contribute,” she said while highlighting the need for analysis of Pakistan’s requirement in changing scenario.

The requirement must be evaluated immediately so that Pakistan could negotiate well with China, she added.

Dr Wizarat was part of a panel of experts on economics and infrastructural study of ongoing projects in Pakistan. The seminar was organised by Szabist to discuss concerns and opportunities related to CPEC and the often ignored aspects of the multi-billion dollar project between the two countries.

Earlier, Dr Wizarat said for Pakistan, CPEC was a departure from following the existing international order. She said similar to other economies, China faced an economic meltdown as well. But rather than investing in wars in foreign locations, it invested in establishing infrastructure bolstered by collaborating with regional and international investors, she said.

Sharing her concern related to mega projects, she said: “Now what needs to be seen is whether we get back as much as we are investing. Pakistan has never had good bargaining skills especially at international level. This leads to the concern that the multi-billion project might not be able to create linkages needed to generate demand for labour skills and training,” she added.

In order to avoid what she called the “resource curse” of huge projects, the seasoned economist suggested that analysis of Pakistan’s requirement including technical skills training should be focused on. Besides, Pakistan must also invest in mineral-based industries along the CPEC route, she added.

Neglected areas

Economist Moazzam Hussain said there was a need to look at the CPEC beyond the spectrum of a long-term infrastructure development project and to examine the ignored aspects.

He spoke of the nine Special Economic Zones (SEZ) which are to be established as part of the project. Mr Hussain explained that China began investing in SEZs in 1979. The combined export earnings of its six economic zones which were established at the time was more than the Indian economy.

For Pakistan, he categorized the expected investments in three types. It would be based on China relocating its management companies, non-Chinese, North American enterprises would invest and the Pakistani enterprises who would want to invest as well.

However, he laid emphasis on the need to look back at previous investment opportunities and conduct an impact analysis of how economic zones fared in the past. He said: “The failure rate is higher than the success rate. It requires objective analysis of successful economic zones and what worked and what did not.”

Abrar Sheikh, the director of the Sindh Board of Investment, presented his point of view trough a slide show of what could work with the CPEC. He said that Pakistan was a resource-rich country and that the investment between the two countries would open many economic doors.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2017