28th Meeting of ECO Regional Planning Council (RPC) was held on 11-14 December 2017 in Islamabad, Pakistan

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The 28th Meeting of the Regional Planning Council (RPC) of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) was held on 11-14 December, 2017 in Islamabad, Pakistan. The Meeting was attended by the delegations of all the 10 Member States, the Observers; the Turkish Cypriot State and the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States; as well as by the ECO Specialized Agencies, Regional Institutions and Affiliated Bodies.

In the opening session, the ECO Secretary General H.E. Ambassador Halil Ibrahim Akça, in his opening remarks, welcomed the ECO Member States, Observers and Specialized Agencies, Institutions & Affiliated Bodies to the 28th Regional Planning Council (RPC) Meeting in the Islamabad. The Secretary General thanked and appreciated the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, especially the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reforms for hosting the 28th RPC Meeting. The ECO Secretary General presented an overview of the main activities of the Organization undertaken during the Year 2017, including successfully holding of 13th ECO Summit and 22nd COM, which adopted the documents – ECO Vision 2025 with Implementation Framework and Islamabad Declaration. He mentioned that the Secretariat has made enormous efforts in realizing the overarching objectives of the Work Programme in 2017 in various segments.

The Meeting was formally inaugurated by H.E. Prof. Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan warmly welcomed all delegates to Islamabad for attending the 28th RPC Meeting. The Federal Minister while highlighting the enormous regional and global changes taking place, inter alia, economic disparity issues, political rivalries, security challenges, environmental hazards, terrorism and extremism threats, he called for adopting collective ECO Regional efforts to address these challenges for upholding peace, stability, prosperity and economic development in the ECO Region, as well as to achieve the sustainable development goals as enshrined in the UN Development Agenda 2030. The socio-economic activities in the Region will be guaranteed through enhanced regional trade and investment opportunities with elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, promotion of free trade through operationalization of ECOTA, regional connectivity, infrastructure development, regional energy markets, oil and gas pipelines (TAPI & CASA-1000), as well as coping with climate change issues, promotion of tourism industry and rooting out the menace of terrorism and extremism.

After the Opening session, various Sectoral Committees were formulated on trade, investment, transport, communications, energy, environment, agricultural, industry, tourism, economic research, statistics, human development, disaster risk reduction, drugs and organized crimes and the international relations. The Sectoral Committees thoroughly discussed the ongoing programmes and projects as well as the areas of future cooperation the Sectorial Committee meetings were also held and their outcomes converged in the Closing Plenary on 14 December; wherein, the final RPC report was presented and adopted with consensus. The Council noted, with appreciation, the work of the Sectoral Committees as well as the ECO Secretariat for the proposed ECO Work Programmes and Calendar of Events for 2018.

The Consultation Meeting on “Reforms in the ECO Specialized Agencies, Regional Institutions and Affiliated Bodies” was also held on 13 December 2017. The Heads of Delegation discussed and reviewed the overall performance of ECO Institutions from different perspectives, including causes and effects lower membership; establishment of inter-secretariat coordination mechanism (nature and scope of activities), Reform of the Organizational Structure of the Specialized Agencies and Regional Institutions, financial and administrative issues; strengths and weaknesses of the current recruitment policy of the Specialized Agencies; mechanism for enhancing the cooperation among the Headquarters of the Specialized Agencies and Regional Institutions and the Diplomatic Corps of the ECO Member States in the host countries.

Two separate sessions on ECO Specialized Agencies/Regional Institutions/Affiliated Bodies including ECOSF were also held during the meeting, wherein, the progress/achievements of the agencies/institutions were discussed in detail. The Council appreciated the activities and initiatives of the Foundation for developing and promoting cooperation among the Member States in the field of science, technology and Innovation (STI) and for the promotion of scientific research in the Region.

The Heads of Delegation of the ECO Member States made their country statements, highlighting policies, programmes and activities of the Organization at national, regional and global levels, including the progress achieved on implementation of the decisions taken during the 27th Meeting of the Regional Planning Council. The Heads of delegation of the ECO Specialized Agencies, Regional Institutions and Affiliated Bodies, including ECO Science Foundation also delivered their statements statements, elaborating activities and progress achieved since last RPC Meeting.

The President ECOSF Prof. Dr. Manzoor H. Soomro made statement on behalf of Foundation. In his statement, he thanked the ECO Secretariat for organizing the meeting amicably and shared the progress on activities/achievements of the Foundation carried out throughout the year of 2017. Prof. Soomro in his statement urged the member states to fully support ECOSF so that the objectives of the Foundation can be achieved through its various scientific activities. President ECOSF expressed deep gratitude to all the Member States and ECO Secretariat for their continuous support to the Foundation and special thanks to the Government of Islamic Republic of Pakistan for patronizing ECOSF through its Ministries of Science & Technology and Foreign Affairs. He further mentioned there is is a convincing need to push forward to build a strong S&T base for economic development in the region. He further added that since the inception of ECOSF, it has transformed itself into a dynamic and agile vehicle to promote Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and Science Education to help build the capacity of its Member States to respond to the emerging challenges of the future.  

Prof. Soomro urged the concerned member states to ratify the ECOSF charter so as to benefit from its programs and let the Foundation function at its fullest strength. He also mentioned in his statement that ECOSF is cognizant of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and all ECOSF current and future programmes have been tuned to SDGs. In this regard, the Foundation launched a program/contest for whole ECO Region in collaboration with partners to address SDGs, “AppIdea2R” (Application Idea 2 Reality) in January 2017, which aimed to develop software applications, broadly available to the public related to one or more of the SDGs. The AppIdea2R Contest has been successfully concluded in December 2017 and provided young students an opportunity to contribute to the SDGs and develop software applications to respond to the challenges such as environment, health safety and water etc.

The President ECOSF reported that the Foundation is keen to expand its scientific research collaboration between the Member States. President appraised the meeting that the Foundation has established a "Science & Technology Fund" for financing the collaborative research projects and successfully worked out its modalities. Subsequently the Foundation formally launched the program and invited the concept proposals. He appraised the Forum that the Foundation has received 21 proposals from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey. These proposals have been evaluated by Technical Evaluation Committee. However, no member state has so far contributed any funds to the S&T Fund. In this connection, President ECOSF requested the member states Member States to make generous contribution towards S&T Fund in line with 2nd and 3rd meetings of ECOSF BoT for the success of the initiative.

President ECOSF informed the Forum that the Foundation has been able to bring funds from various global players & donors including via UNESCO. To this affect, the Foundation is partnering with IDB in its two Reverse Linkages Projects in for Kazakhstan-Pakistan and Pakistan-Turkey for capacity building; total cost US$ 1,434,400/- (ECOSF Share US$ (US$ 50,000/-). Under this program, IDB and ECOSF are strengthening the ties among institutions of same fields in the ECO region. He shared that the Foundation signed a MoU with IDB for broader cooperation for promotion of S&T research and capacity building of the ECO Member States.

The meeting was informed that ECOSF has developed good interaction with numerous international science and technology organizations and Donors including; International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation under the Auspices of UNESCO (ISTIC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; La main a la pate Foundation, France; European Union; UNESCO, Islamic Development Bank, Korea Institute of Science & Technology Evaluation and Planning (KISTEP), The Academy of Engineering and Technology for the Developing World (AETDEW) based in Malaysia, International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC), Astana-Kazakhstan, China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) and Pakistani organizations including Pakistan Academy of Sciences and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and many national organizations in member states and the Foundation continue to do so. Member States were requested to further enhance their support to the Foundation for strengthening the linkages within Member States.

The President ECOSF briefed the forum that the ECOSF is playing a lead role towards the development of a Roadmap on Engineering Qualification Standardization, Accreditation and Professional System (EQSAPS) in the region. This road map is aimed at harmonization of curricula and engineering qualification standardization for the countries of the Central Asia region. He also shared that ECOSF is partnering with InterAcademy Partnership – Science Education Program (IAP SEP) and China Association of Science and Technology (CAST) to develop science curriculum based on Fusion of Civilizations. He also briefed the Forum that that Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) is the Root of S&T Development. Thus there is a need to work together today for our future generations so they could lead us to the real indigenous scientific development for Sustainable Economic Development. In this respect, Prof. Soomro reported that with the support of our international collaborators a Capacity Building Program in "Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE)" lunched in Astana-Kazakhstan in 2015 is continuing nicely. In the end, President ECOSF expressed his sincere thanks to ECO Secretariat for the commendable efforts in convening this 28th RPC meeting.

At the end of the RPC meeting, the Council expressed its appreciation and thanks to the ECO Secretariat for making excellent arrangements for this important meeting. The Council concluded with a vote of thanks to the Chair for conducting the deliberations of the meeting in a smooth and efficient manner. It also appreciated the efforts made by the Secretary General and his staff for preparing comprehensive Working Papers and other documents for the Council.

After the concluding ceremony, a reception dinner was held in honor of the participants of the annual meeting of the Regional Planning Council of the ECO that was hosted by the President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain.

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