LAHORE: The President of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Kashif Anwar, has emphasized the need to develop a comprehensive strategy aimed at eliminating obstacles that impede trade within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
In a warm welcome address to SAARC Vice President Mian Anjum Nisar at the LCCI, Anwar, along with other LCCI officials, expressed their optimism and high expectations for promoting trade and economic relations among SAARC member countries.
Anwar praised the invaluable contributions of the outgoing SAARC President, Iftikhar Ali Malik, in advancing the interests of the business community and fostering trade and industry within SAARC nations. He expressed hope that the new SAARC management would follow in Malik’s footsteps to further strengthen trade ties and economic cooperation among member states.
Extending his congratulations to Mian Anjum Nisar on his election as the Vice President of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Anwar highlighted the significance of South Asia, which is home to over a quarter of the world’s population. Despite this, Anwar pointed out that a well-defined strategy to improve trade links between SAARC countries is still in the works. He expressed confidence in Nisar’s ability to play a pivotal role in building trust among member nations.
Anwar stressed the need to address various challenges hindering intra-SAARC trade, such as visa restrictions for the general public, particularly businessmen, as well as facilitating seamless transportation of goods, investment, and services across respective countries. He pointed out that SAARC’s share in global exports stands at 1.9%, while ASEAN enjoys an 8% share. Over the period from 2017 to 2022, SAARC’s total exports rose by 26% to $468 billion, while ASEAN countries experienced a 54% increase to $2 trillion.
Mian Anjum Nisar highlighted the lack of banking connectivity among SAARC member states as a major obstacle preventing the realization of the region’s trade potential. He underscored the need for Pakistan to address issues such as rupee devaluation, inflation, and the cost of doing business to secure a significant share in intra-SAARC trade. Nisar noted that the substantial devaluation of the Pakistani rupee has led to a manifold increase in external debts.
Anwar stressed the importance of enhancing productivity and promoting the use of indigenous raw materials to reduce the cost of doing business. He also called for improved connectivity between SAARC countries, not only through road and railway networks but also through ports, shipping, and aviation, which would facilitate and enhance mutual connectivity.
Furthermore, Anwar advocated for the establishment of a Regional Energy Market within SAARC, incorporating a SAARC Power Grid for electricity trading, as well as the trading of other energy sources such as oil, gas, and renewable energy technologies.
LCCI officials, including Senior Vice President Zafar Mahmood Chaudhry and Vice President Adnan Khalid Butt, emphasized the importance of financial cooperation among SAARC countries to bridge infrastructure gaps and increase productivity.
Anwar proposed the establishment of a SAARC Central Bank with regional branches in major commercial cities and capitals across the region, which could prove instrumental in achieving the aforementioned objectives.
Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, President of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), lauded the LCCI as their second home and praised the active role played by LCCI office-bearers in serving the business community.