"Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an initiative of connectivity of not only infrastructure but of economy, trade, and people to people. When connectivity is improved, so does the accessibility to different economies, and trade and movement of technologies will be enhanced. That is BRI to the world, a catalyst for economic growth and cultural exchanges," said Rana Ihsan Afzal khan, Coordinator to Prime Minster of Pakistan on Commerce and Industry, in an interview with China Economic Net (CEN).
Citing an example of a road project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Rana said, "it used to take almost 24 hours to travel from Islamabad to Gilgit Baltistan. As soon as the CPEC came in and the road network was improved with traveling time shortened by half, we saw that all of a sudden there was a boom of tourism and economic growth in Gilgit."
According to the official website of the CPEC Authority, five transport projects under the CPEC have been completed, and among them, three are motorway projects, including KKH Phase II, Multan-Sukkur Motorway(M5), and Hakla - D.I Khan Motorway, adding 809 km to the road network of Pakistan and driving economic activities in the cities along the road. Meanwhile, the Orange Line Metro train and the Cross Border Optical Fiber Cable lay the foundation for the modernization of Pakistan's transport system.
Motorways are an important part of Pakistan's "National Trade Corridor Project" and CPEC, which aims to link its three Arabian Sea ports (Karachi Port, Port Bin Qasim and Gwadar Port) to the rest of the country through its national highways and motorways network and further north with Afghanistan, Central Asia and China.
"The network of roads and Gwadar Port have been established. Now we are moving towards the Gwadar new international airport and the ML-1 railway project, which will further improve logistics, the speed of trading, and people-to-people contact, " Rana stated.
"In the past five years, CPEC has improved connectivity within Pakistan and helped us control load-shedding across the country. Pakistan is looking forward for it to be mature and reach its true potential," Rana added.
As a megaproject with a cumulative investment of $ 65 billion in 2022, the CPEC has created 192,000 jobs, 6,000MW of power supply, 809km of highway, and 886km of transmission line, which laid a solid foundation for Pakistan's socio-economic development.
However, rumors and smears on CPEC from certain western and Indian media never cease.
Dismissive of these noises, Rana said, "no one is forcing any country to be part of BRI. It is by choice. Pakistan and China, for example, are close neighbors. When neighbors are friendly with each other and do business, it is only to benefit the people."
As for challenges occurring in the construction of the CPEC project, Rana said, "definitely if the planning is not properly done as expected, it cannot be blamed on others, we have to look at ourselves."
Indeed, the year 2022 was challenging for world economies, and especially overwhelming for Pakistan, which was hit hard by devastating floods that inundated almost 1/3 of the lands of the country besides facing other universal problems due to currencies devaluation against the U.S. dollar, soaring energy price, and inflation.
"Currently the biggest problem Pakistan is facing is our foreign reserves have fallen to a very low level. The reason behind it is basically that Pakistan has faced a huge trade deficit," Rana said, adding that last year Pakistan had imports of almost $82 billion and exports of $32 billion, leaving a trade gap of around $50 billion.
"To reduce the trade deficit and the current account deficit, we have to increase our exports and do import substitution, and we are looking up to the Chinese market, which can import $2.5 to $3 trillion worth of goods each year," Rana hinted.
He disclosed that the government has already assigned the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries and Production to look into where Pakistan has a comparative advantage in terms of exports to China. And "in a general impression, food, fruit and textile products will be the main areas of export."
According to data from the World Bank, Pakistan’s export to China rose by over 35% from US$ 2,652 million in 2013, the year BRI was proposed, to US$ 3,589 million in 2021.
"Thanks to the CPEC project, a lot of private Chinese investors have come to Pakistan. For example, A Chinese tyre company has established a manufacturing factory in one of our industrial zones, and they are quite pleased with their products produced here," Rana said.
There are expectations in Pakistan that as China is moving into high-value-added industries, low-skilled industries can move to the country. Rana holds the same view. "There is huge potential for it. We have a young population that can be utilized in areas where there are more requirement of human resource or labor intensive industries."
Not only China, but Pakistan also envisages more business with other countries as the CPEC goes deeper and wider. Gwadar port gives access to China via Pakistan to extend trade with Middle and West Asia and Europe and shortens the distance of business connection from a logistical point of view.
"We should take a step forward to utilize the route from Gwadar Port, which links the maritime silk road, to Gilgit, where the land border with China is located. More and more trade will be done through this line under the BRI umbrella and we will benefit from it," Rana concluded.