The two-day International Seminar on Business Opportunities in Punjab (ISBOP) brought together around 450 businessmen, entrepreneurs and investors from 26 countries. The proceedings of the seminar and subsequent discussions between the foreign investors, businessmen and their Pakistani counterparts helped develop insights and a larger picture of the untapped investment and business potential of Punjab.
The second edition of the ISBOP served as proof of the fact that Punjab has emerged as an attractive investment hub in the region. The seminar exhibited the provincial government’s willingness to build partnerships and promote business and trade relations. This is in line with the realities of the modern times whereby trade and commerce have taken precedence over other aspects of inter-state relations.
The imperatives of economic development have changed the rules of the game that govern the foreign policies of the world. The countries are now increasingly rendering their goodwill and political relations into creating mutually beneficial economic and trade partnerships.
Globalisation in the 21st century is about cooperation among countries in the realms of trade, commerce and business. The developed and prosperous nations can progress only when they take the developing world along with them.
We cannot simultaneously have islands of material progress and barren lands of underdevelopment. We cannot hope to make this journey of development sustainable until we create conditions to ensure that developing countries can also benefit from the experience of the developed world. Hence, it has to be a win-win partnership.
Equitable and shared economic development can help address long-standing political disputes among various countries. This is the best way to create ‘peace constituencies’ that build pressure on their governments for the peaceful resolution of issues. This explains why economic diplomacy is at the heart of endeavours that various countries are making to boost relations with other countries.
Pakistan is an emerging success story that has been endorsed by all stakeholders. While terrorism has been eliminated to a large extent, Pakistan’s economy has been growing gradually but surely over the past few years. It has emerged as one of the top performing economies in South Asia.
The competitiveness of Pakistan’s economy has markedly increased over the past four years. According to the Global Competitiveness Index, Pakistan’s rank has improved by 11 positions.
Punjab is working rigorously to improve its performance against the Doing Business indicators that fall within the provincial domain. The World Bank Group’s Doing Business Report 2017 has listed Pakistan among the top 10 reformers in the world. The government of Punjab, with the technical and financial support of the World Bank, has also launched the $100 million Jobs and Competitiveness Programme to support interventions envisaged under the Ease of Doing Business Reform Agenda.
In today’s world, the private sector is increasingly taking the lead in creating goods and services. It is, therefore, playing a proactive and contributory role in economic development. Gone are the days when the governments used to monopolise the whole ambit of economic activities. Today’s private sector is dynamic and a real engine of growth. The job of the government is to create conditions that are necessary for fair competition in which all stakeholders – including local and foreign investors – can take part with the support of the government.
This means that a government should be working to improve the ease of doing business, creating one-stop shops, putting in place a facilitative policy framework, reducing the cost of inputs and ensuring their supply and providing a cheap but skilled workforce.
Punjab has shown considerable progress in these areas. There is, however, a need to ensure that transparency is maintained in all projects and investment ventures. Investors and businessmen find it easy to put their capital here through one-window operations. Furthermore, the energy problem – which has severely affected our economic growth for well over a decade – should be addressed.
In order to fully benefit from investments, the youth needs to be provided technical and vocational education and training so they can become a productive human resource. The idea of establishing a university of technical and vocational education should be pursued to provide a leadership to all institutions engaged in the provision of vocational and technical education. Given its vast experience in this area, China can be helpful in this respect.
The major thrust of our efforts should now be on industrial development. We should seek collaboration to make our economy export-oriented through innovation and the use of smart technological solutions. This, in turn, will help make our exports globally competitive through diversification and value additions to our products.
We have to make sure that both international and local investors have the space to strategise and plan the expansion and growth of their businesses on a more predictable and consistent basis. The experience of international companies working in the country can be quite instructive and can give the potential investors an idea of the prevailing investment climate in the country.
In order to attract foreign capital, the government should work towards reducing the cost of doing business, facilitate businesses with the creation of industrial clusters and special economic zones, attract capital in the energy, housing, mines and minerals, infrastructure, transport, agriculture and industrial sectors, look towards its expertise and management skills to expedite the process of development and, above all, welcome fresh business ideas to foster growth.
We currently stand at the cusp of a massive transformation. The opportunities of economic development provided by CPEC have to be leveraged through the right set of policies and a strong commitment towards putting the economy at the top of the national agenda. Politics needs to be redefined by an emphasis on the economy and socioeconomic welfare of the people.
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