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No harm in comprehensive assessment of CPEC

There is no denying the fact that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a game changer, but it is also a fact that there still exists need for taking broader view of its impacts on various spheres of the live. A comprehensive assessment is needed for damage likely to be done to the environment. Some of the projects will need corrective measures but others might have to be abandoned for more sustainable initiatives. Experts say that while the physical infrastructure and energy generation projects to be completed under the CPEC have the potential to boost economic activity, they will also result in degradation of the environment. Not too long ago, the Karakoram Highway had supported only a handful of trucks that traversed its narrow route to move goods between markets in Pakistan and China. The highway is expected to carry up to 100 trucks a day when CPEC reaches its full swing. The highest paved surface in the world already has more than a dozen diesel powered semi-trailer trucks chugging along it every day. The ugly dark fumes released by these trucks stand out in striking contrast to the pristine landscape alongside the highway. These dark fumes will eventually settle on glaciers, causing them to melt and form lakes. Installing catalytic converters in the trucks that use the highway can serve as a quick-fix and economical solution to reduce emissions. This is just one of the cases where the environmental impact of CPEC-related projects needs to be tackled. The authorities must realise that blind faith in CPEC’s ability to turn around the economy can bring harm than good. These projects need to be reviewed for sustainability and equity to ensure that benefits outweigh costs and that the benefits reach marginalised areas and population groups. On the other hand, market players find the China Pakistan Economic Corridor a little too opaque as they do not know whether China will bring cement, steel as well as workers from China as it has done in Africa and Latin America. Until this issue is cleared uncertainty will persist. On the other hand, the Pak businessmen are also expressing their genuine concerns. The CPEC is no doubt a great opportunity and a game changer for Pakistan. But in order to reap its full benefits, our government and businessmen need to study its pros and cons carefully in order to safeguard and promote the local businesses along with those of our partner in development. In this connection the statement of the Chairman of Businessmen’s Panel of the FPCCI Mian Anjum Nisar is very timely and deserves to be considered seriously. The gist of his statement is that the Pakistani businessmen should get equal opportunities and a level playing field in the corridor. “The government should put in place a framework to ensure 100 per cent utilization of local industry. If we want to benefit from the corridor initiative, we have to give our companies their due share in the projects”, he said. As a matter of fact, some sections of the Pakistani industry and trade are already feeling the pinch as a result of competition from cheaper and sometime better quality Chinese goods. Our textile industry particularly feels threatened by Chinese textile goods. This is not to criticize or discourage the Chinese companies. They are welcome because they have made available cheaper goods to the people. But at the same time there is need to encourage the local industry as well for a healthy competition with foreign goods. What the government and the business leadership of the country need to do is to assess the situation and come up with practical proposals to protect the local industry and trade, while at the same time, welcoming genuine competition from foreign countries. There should be no compromise on transparency of the project. The larger issue here remains one of greater transparency in the execution of CPEC. If there are reservations on the part of China to widen the debate on the project, then it becomes the government’s job to explain to their Chinese counterparts that our political traditions demand greater transparency. All economic documents that contain plans for the medium term are public documents in this country. This includes the five-year plans and the IMF agreements. The CPEC Long-Term Plan cannot be an exception, especially since it goes further than any past economic plan in terms of its impact on the economy. There are no reasons to fear CPEC, nor should there be an automatic aversion to greater Chinese entry into our economy. But any anxieties on that count can only be alleviated through greater disclosure of the terms on which the project is being negotiated. Keeping matters secret, then issuing indignant denials that will clearly not survive scrutiny, only fans anxiety. The government should immediately prepare to reveal the full extent of the understandings it has entered into with the government of China, including placing whatever document that has been signed as the lead agreement on CPEC before parliament.

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