ECO, an opportunity to boost trade with landlocked countries

Atif Abbas

There has been transit trade barriers between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The transit trade agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan has faced bottlenecks due to insistence of Afghanistan to include India. However, Pakistan has not agreed. Pakistan argues that diplomatic tussle between India and Pakistan is a major hurdle and the former may become part of this transit agreement later after two countries normalize tense relations.

Now, Pakistan plans to use ECO Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA) to reach landlocked states of Central Asia. The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) is a Eurasian political and economic organization founded in 1984 in Tehran by leaders of Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. At present, ECO has ten countries that also include Afghanistan. This is a landlocked country located in South Central Asia. Afghanistan is also bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran is in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are in the north; and China is in the far northeast.

So, Afghanistan is in center of the entire region. It can provide route to other landlocked countries of Central Asia like Tajikistan and then reaching to Russia. Another important countries is Turkey located mainly in Western Asia, with a smaller portion on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe.  Afghanistan can provide land route to Central Asian states, Russia and Turkey can give access to Europe. ECO provides a platform to discuss ways to improve development and promote trade and investment opportunities.

Pakistan was a party to ECO Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA) which entered into force on May 19, 2016. The objectives of TTFA included development and maintenance of mutually beneficial system of transit transport arrangements for regional and international trade.

To ensure that the internationally agreed rules are followed TTFA stipulated that the international carriage of goods by road transport among the contracting parties of the transit transport framework agreement shall be implemented according to the convention on the contract for international carriage of goods by road of May 19,1956 and the protocol to this convention (Geneva 5 July 1978).

The states which are not the signatories to this convention are not in a position to give proper facilities to the carriers of contracting parities of TTFA. Pakistan so far has not acceded to International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) while all member countries of ECO except Pakistan and Afghanistan are party to CMR. Without accession to CMR and regulatory framework, the transportation of goods by Pakistan vehicles through land routes to ECO member countries and Europe was not permissible.

All stakeholders including Ministries of foreign affairs, commerce, defense, interior, federal board of revenue and all provinces have backed Pakistan’s accession to CMR convention. Therefore, it suggested this government that Pakistan should accede to the convention on the contract for CMR. And any dispute emerging between countries would be referred to international court of justice.

The government of Pakistan has decided now to accede to CMR convention that would provide land route for goods transportation in ECO block. But this block has some countries which are not on the same page. In addition to peace and stability issue in Afghanistan, Pakistan does not enjoy good relations.

These two countries have still differences over transit trade agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. India and United States (US) have dominating position in Kabul government. The same issue is with Iran that is facing US sanctions. Turkey is another active member but it does not have good relations with US now.

So, US has even its role in making this block successful or a failure. Afghanistan has not acceded to International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) and may not do under influence of US and India.US also wants Pakistan to give land route access to India to Afghanistan for trade. These differences are major hurdles in a trade between South and Central Asia and even Europe through land routes.ECO member countries can play their role to avail this viable option to boost trade.

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