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CPEC: Gilgit-Baltistan to be declared free trade zone, says Dastgir

By Peer Muhammad

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has decided to declare Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) as a free trade zone to promote business activity in the area, according to Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastgir.

Talking to a group of journalists, the federal minister said G-B had paramount importance in making the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project a success due to its geographical location and in that regard, the government had decided to declare the area as a free trade zone.

A big trade processing zone would be established under the CPEC near the Gilgit city, Dastgir elaborated.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a gateway between China and Pakistan and the region links the two countries at Khunjerab Pass. The area also holds immense importance as far as the CPEC is concerned, as a 450km chunk of the corridor route will pass through the territory.

The people of G-B have already demanded establishment of industrial zones in the region. Additionally, they demanded that offices of the Chinese investment company should be established so that business and job opportunities for the local people could be created.

The minister said G-B had as much importance for the CPEC as Gwadar and it would be facilitated to the maximum extent. He said the federal government had asked the G-B chief minister to submit a plan in this regard.

The minister said the free trade zone status would attract local and foreign investment in the area. “This project will change the fate of the area and its resources will be tapped once investments start coming to that area,” the minister said.

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The mineral and hydroelectric power sectors have much potential for foreign investment. He said state-of-the-art infrastructure in G-B under the CPEC would result in attracting huge investments in addition to providing a shorter route for traders in China to access the sea for shipping their goods.

Additionally, he said, the area’s geography was strategically important since G-B bordered Central Asian states and the region would be the focal point for any trade corridors with these states.

Dastgir said after receiving cold shoulder from Afghanistan regarding a transit trade agreement with Tajikistan, since a narrow strip of Afghanistan’s land stands between Tajikistan and Pakistan, Islamabad was now considering accessing Central Asian States via China. However, he said efforts to bring Afghanistan on the transit trade fold would continue.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2016.

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