On November 9, Tashkent hosted the 16th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization under the theme "Together Towards Economic Stability and Development".
The event was chaired by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and attended by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ebrahim Raisi, the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sadyr Japarov, the President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, the President of the Republic of Turkiye Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of the Republic of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdymukhamedov, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Alikhan Smailov and the Secretary General of the ECO Husrav Noziri.
In accordance with the agenda, the prospects of multifaceted cooperation within the framework of ECO and taking it to a new level were discussed, and an in-depth exchange of views on topical international and regional issues took place.
Addressing the opening session, the President of Uzbekistan expressed his sincere gratitude to the distinguished guests for their participation in this important event, which confirmed the common aspirations to expand comprehensive and mutually beneficial cooperation.
It was underlined that the Member States of the Organization are closely linked by a common history, religion, rich culture and shared values.
The President of Uzbekistan noted that the ECO region, with half a billion people and one-third of the world's energy resources, has enormous potential for expanding trade, economic, industrial, investment, innovation and transport ties.
The progressive dynamics of cooperation within the Organization in recent years, the consistent implementation of proposals and initiatives expressed at the Ashgabat Summit in 2021 were positively acknowledged.
In particular, systematic work is being carried out to reform and improve the efficiency of the Organization and increase its authority on the international arena. The Tashkent Declaration of Transport Ministers was recently adopted, and practical work is underway to create a regional electricity market and a clean energy centre in Baku. A high-level dialogue platform on environmental issues has been established, a network of tour operators has been set up and a safe tourism development programme has been approved.
At the same time, the President of Uzbekistan noted the significant untapped potential for expanding comprehensive cooperation among the Member States of the Organization. For instance, the volume of trade between ECO countries amounted to $85 billion last year, representing only 8% of their total foreign trade.
Long-standing attempts to conclude a preferential trade agreement have not yielded the expected results, and many other restrictions and barriers to free trade remain.
In order to give a new impetus to the development of cooperation within the ECO, the President of Uzbekistan proposed the development of a new conceptual document "Strategic Goals of Economic Cooperation - 2035".
This important document should focus on the following key areas: stimulating mutual trade, strengthening transport and communications links, promoting industrial cooperation, ensuring energy security, combating climate change, deepening cooperation in tourism and cultural and humanitarian exchanges.
The Head of State called for the adoption of a Trade Facilitation Agreement focusing on the simplification of trade procedures for goods and services, the prevention of technical and non-tariff barriers, the digitalization of customs, phytosanitary and veterinary regulations, and the development of e-commerce. According to preliminary calculations, these measures have the potential to at least double the volume of bilateral trade by 2035.
Noting that most of the Organization's Member States do not have direct access to the sea, the President of Uzbekistan stressed the importance of fully exploiting the potential of transcontinental transport corridors and launching multimodal corridors along the "China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan" route and the Trans-Afghan Road.
The head of our country also called on other members of the Organization to join the document on the development of the transport corridor "Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkiye", adopted at the meeting of transport ministers in Tashkent on November 2, and to optimize mutual tariffs and fees.
The establishment of the ECO Digital Transport and Customs Office in Tashkent has been initiated in order to fully implement the digitization of freight transport data and ensure efficient coordination of such modern systems.
The President of Uzbekistan stressed the importance of adopting a joint action programme to increase the flow and protection of mutual investments, deepen industrial cooperation and create an interregional industrial exhibition, the first event of which will be held in Uzbekistan in 2024. He also called for the expansion of partnership relations with the Organization's Trade and Development Bank.
The importance of the coordination of national energy strategies, the development of interregional energy transmission networks and the widespread use of "green" energy technologies is highlighted to ensure energy security. In order to establish systematic cooperation in this field, the establishment of an ECO Council of Energy Ministers was proposed.
In view of the growing climate challenges, the President of Uzbekistan underlined the need to strengthen cooperation in combating climate change and protecting the environment. It is proposed to hold the first high-level ECO Platform Conference on Ecology within the framework of the forthcoming Samarkand Climate Forum in 2024, initiated by Uzbekistan.
The head of our country called on the representatives of the Organization's member states to actively participate in the meeting of the Committee on the Implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which will be held in Uzbekistan next week, and to support the Samarkand Declaration on combating dust and sand storms.
In the light of the enormous potential for cooperation in the tourism sector and the growing popularity of cross-border destinations, it is proposed to implement joint tourist routes and strengthen overall tourism programmes under the brand name "Silk Road".
The Head of State also proposed the establishment of a Consultative Committee on Tourism at the ECO Secretariat, composed of tourism administrations and leading experts from member countries, and to hold its first meeting in the city of Shakhrisabz, which has been declared the Tourism Capital of the Organization.
Stressing the importance of deepening cultural and humanitarian cooperation for further rapprochement between the peoples of the ECO member states, the President of Uzbekistan initiated the annual organization of cultural, art and cinema weeks, the establishment of youth creative festivals and an innovation cooperation platform, as well as the strengthening of cooperation in fundamental scientific directions.
In his speech, the Uzbek Leader also touched on pressing international and regional issues, in particular the situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza Strip, the start of peace negotiations and the achievement of a reasonable compromise. He reiterated his firm support for the right of the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state, as confirmed by UN resolutions.
The President of Uzbekistan also called for increased humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and a solution to the acute socio-economic problems in that country based on collective responsibility and acceptable mechanisms. He noted that the active participation of Afghanistan, which is also a member of ECO, in regional integration processes is a necessary condition for sustainable regional development.
In addition, the heads of delegations from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkiye, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Kazakhstan and the ECO Secretary-General, Husrav Noziri, delivered speeches at the Summit.
In accordance with the agenda, the President of Uzbekistan, as Chairman of the Summit, announced the winners of the Organization's Scientific Achievement Awards. A representative from each country was selected as the recipient.
The Tashkent Communiqué was adopted at the end of the event.
Iran took over the chairmanship of ECO and Azerbaijan was chosen as the venue for the next summit.