ISLAMABAD - Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz yesterday said Pakistan preferred trade over financial aid.

Addressing the Annual Conference on Sustainable Development – organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute here - Aziz said trade expands while aid was used within a short time.

Aziz said the postponement of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation conference – due to India’s defiance - halted progress in economic and social sectors in the region. The SAARC conference was postponed a few weeks earlier when India refused to attend the summit followed by some other member countries.

He said the last meeting of Council of SAARC Foreign Ministers held in Pokhra, Nepal in May 2016, had agreed to set up a coordinating group to learn from each other’s experiences, both in converting the global goals into national goals and in formulating concrete implementation strategies.

Recognising the importance of environmental challenges facing South Asia, he said: “We had proposed cooperation on climate change as an important agenda item for the SAARC summit in Islamabad. By postponement of the SAARC summit, the people of South Asia have been deprived of an important opportunity for cooperation in this vital area.”

Sartaj Aziz said China-Pakistan Economic Corridor signified the deeply rooted and exemplary relations between China and Pakistan.  “CPEC, as we are all aware, is an outstanding example of South-South cooperation,” he added.

He said progress and stability in the region was possible through regional connectivity and mutual sharing of experiences in different fields.

Aziz said the Annual Conferences on Sustainable Development have become important events for the development planers and policy makers in Pakistan, but this year’s conference has a special significance for three important reasons.

First, he said, the conference coincides with the start of a new journey of sustainable development on which we embarked in September 2015, by adopting Agenda 2030.

“It therefore provides a valuable opportunity to analyse different dimensions of this agenda and identify specific national priorities and implementation plans through which these goals and targets can be achieved,” he said.

Secondly, Aziz said, the first year of the Agenda 2030 coincides with some very disturbing developments on the global stage.

“Both in US and Europe we have seen decisive political shifts towards inward looking nationalistic policies. If these trends continue, the three important prerequisites for global partnerships in implementing this agenda, nearly, inclusively, integration and universality would become more difficult to realise,” he said.

The advisor said the conference can and should discuss the full implications of these developments, specially the growing importance of South-South cooperation for achieving these Sustainable Development Goals.

Thirdly, he said, Pakistan was much better prepared for the Agenda 2030 than it was for the Millennium Development Goals. “The eight MDG’s adopted in the year 2000, for the period 2000-2015 were never translated into national goals and there was no dedicated monitoring machinery to watch our progress towards these goals,” he said.

In the past 12 months, Pakistan has adopted a number of important steps for giving national ownership to SDGs and for mainstreaming them into national development priorities.

These include the unanimous approval of a resolution by parliament in February 2016, adopting the Agenda 2030 as Pakistan’s National Development Agenda initiating actions in consultation with provincial governments to translate SDGs into country specific goals and targets.

Pakistan’s quest for pursuing SDGs, the advisor said, had been greatly facilitated by the exercise completed by the Planning Commission in August 2014 on ‘Vision 2025’. “The 7 pillars and 25 goals spelled out in Vision 2025’ are fully in line with the 17 goals and 169 targets laid down in the SDGs. Poverty eradication was the most important goal among the SDGs,” he added.

“This agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development,” he said.

Aziz added: “All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human face from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”

The SDGs, he said, were not meant only for developing countries. “They also apply to the developed countries not only as providers of development assistance but also for creating space, through appropriate policies, to adopt more sustainable forms of consumption both to protect the environment and to allow sustainable development to take place,” he added.

In this context, Aziz said, Pakistan’s policy to emphasise trade, rather than aid, as a more effective means of North South Cooperation was very timely. “When traditional forms of financing for development are increasingly becoming scarce and Official Development Assistance faces increased budgetary pressures, innovative investment policies to bridge the gap between what is available and what we need to reach the SDGs and a level playing field for trade among nations can become more important,” he remarked.

Investment in development, he said, was perhaps one of the smartest investments we can make in our collective future.

“Lack of development is starkly reflected in the lack of education, lack of health facilities and fewer jobs, and also a sense of despair, where basic human dignity is violated. This could lead to tensions and instability,” he said. 

He said many internal conflicts and crises in developing world could have been avoided if nations had truly invested in the lives of the people, and if the wealthiest nations on earth were better partners.

He said the government was fully conscious of the imperative of peace and development for our people and the people of the region. “Our policy of peaceful neighbourhood is intended precisely to promote that goal. I think this is an objective that should bring us together for the benefit of our present and future generations,” he added.

Addressing the conference, Federal Minister Zahid Hamid said that joint and systematic efforts are needed to achieve sustainable development goals.

Food, education, health and economic stability were the fundamental rights of people, he added. “Pakistan is also taking steps regarding climate change. Along with Vision 2025, national policy regarding climatic and environmental changes is also quite clear,” he said.