ISLAMABAD: While Pakistan is yet to form a group of experts to decide setting up of the exact number and types of special economic zones (SEZs) along the CPEC route in the first phase, China has notified the government of forming the group.

During the last meeting of the Pak-China Joint Cooperation Committee (PCJCC) held in Beijing, setting up of nine SEZs had been prioritised. It had been decided that the two countries would set up expert groups to deliberate how to build the priority zones.

Participating in the concluding session of Pakistan-China industrial dialogue on Thursday, head of the Chinese Industrial Experts Group, Mr Li Yuan, asked Pakistan to expedite forming the experts’ group, and emphasised on devising long-term cooperation mechanism to select priority sector and synergise policies for SEZs.

Where is the experts group, asks Chinese delegation

Mr Yuan informed the Pakistani side that China has already built four special economic zones followed by developing 14 coastal cities, and subsequently, 14 industrial zones were developed. The proposed prioritised SEZs by Pakistan are to be reviewed by expert groups of the two countries for development in the initial phase, he said, addig that these SEZs may follow either Chinese or Pakistani standards to attract investment.

Speaking on the occasion, Board of Investment Chairman Dr Miftah Ismail informed the Chinese side that Pakistan plans to establish a total of 46 SEZs, and the experts’ group will soon be nominated to deliberate on how to build the zones.

China has rich experience in developing zones and Pakistan can learn much from Chinese experience, he said.

During the concluding session, presentations were made by the governments of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, highlighting the potential of agricultural and horticultural products for exports.

Representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan highlighted the mineral potential and location advantages sitting exactly on the ancient ‘Silk Route’ being gateway for central, east and South Asia.

Additionally, the zone has huge comparative advantage for manufacturing and processing of minerals, fresh fruits and vegetables, wood, herbs and trout fish. The ‘Maqpoon Dass’ SEZ can also act as logistic hub of the North, he said.

The representatives of Azad Jammu and Kashmir highlighted their territory’s potential in water and mineral resources and incentives being provided to foreign investors. The potential of proposed Mirpur SEZ in terms of its connectivity with highway, railways and airport as well as the expected industries to be set up in this zone based on local endowment was also deliberated through the presentation.

BoI Secretary, Azher Ali Choudhry enumerated the main features of the incentive package for the identified priority SEZs and invited the Chinese to convey their viewpoint, if any, for further discussion. He emphasised that Chinese companies have huge opportunities to relocate their businesses to these priority SEZs. Pakistan is expecting feedback of Chinese experts on this visit.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2017