Economic issues come to the fore at regional grouping

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 July, 2004, 12:00am

Organisation aims to be driving force in trade as well as security and border issues

A raft of trade and economic initiatives in various industries is expected from the six-nation Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Tajikistan in September.

E-commerce, customs, investment and transport are some of the industries to be included in the initiatives.

Zhang Deguang, secretary-general of the SCO, said yesterday the organisation was striving to become a driving force in regional economic integration, while being concerned mainly with security and border issues.

'We are moving on two wheels - one on regional security and one on economic and trade,' he told the South China Morning Post.

The group, comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, was set up in 2001 to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism.

The SCO planned to establish a development fund to provide financing for future infrastructure projects, Mr Zhang said.

At present, trade was conducted mainly on a bilateral basis and the six countries lacked region-wide co-operation. The SCO planned to draft cross-border transport codes to improve the movement of freight, he added.

Mr Zhang said co-ordination of trade via consultation and joint regulation was crucial for regional economic integration, especially as only China and Kyrgyzstan were World Trade Organisation members.

Setting up a permanent secretariat in Beijing and an anti-terrorism centre in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, gave the SCO the necessary framework for building trust and future growth, Mr Zhang said.

He stressed that even though China and Russia were the two largest contributors of SCO funds, the group reached decisions through consensus, a factor enshrined in its founding principles.

A joint anti-terrorist exercise last August had been the SCO's most important collaboration to date, and showed how a multinational cross-border force could be mobilised against attacks, he said.

Recognising that drug trafficking from Afghanistan not only helped finance terrorist activities but destabilised society, a joint anti-drugs campaign became a new focus at the Tashkent summit last month.

The thrust into economic co-operation began in September last year at a meeting of SCO leaders in Beijing which outlined a long-term plan of achieving free movement of capital, goods, services and technology within 20 years.

Premier Wen Jiabao specifically highlighted the co-operation potential of developing energy resources in the region.

China and Kazakhstan are building a 988km oil pipeline, which is expected to be completed by next year.

Mr Zhang expected future expansion of the SCO, but the organisation has yet to draft regulations.