South-South Champions: H.E. Ambassador Khusrav Noziri, Secretary General, Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO)

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent political as well as security related changes are having adverse effects on ECO activities in Afghanistan. However, despite such hindrances, we continue our efforts for supporting the country and we hope that ECO is in a position to overcome these complexities in near future”. (H.E. Ambassador Khusrav Noziri, 2021)

As ECO is an organization focusing on sustainable development cooperation, can you tell us how South-South Cooperation is applicable in your work?

Fostering economic cooperation among its Member States is an integral part of ECO’s agenda for sustainable development. Let me recall that ECO is an intergovernmental economic forum of ten South, Western and Central Asian nations which are desperately determined to transform the region into a block of integrated and sustainable self-sufficient economies through good governance, as well as acceleration of intra-regional, inter-regional and global trade activism. Over the years, ECO has made serious efforts to develop the necessary institutional and multilateral frameworks to initiate and implement joint actions for the prosperity of the region.

Guided by the core principles of sustainability, integration and conducive environment, the Organization is navigated by a landmark resolution of implementing the ECO Vision 2025 that was adopted in 2017. It is envisioned that “ECO will pave the way to a territory of integrated and sustainable economies as well as free trade area achieved by highly educated societies and improved governance through enhanced cooperation”. We share the goals and targets defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015 as enshrined in its outcome document “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The ECO Vision 2025 also defines ways and means of achieving the targets determined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.

I am privileged to mention that the ECO’s vision is specially targeted to help promote cooperative relationships and activities amongst the ECO Member States, particularly in six priority areas of Trade, Transport and Connectivity, Energy, Tourism, Economic Growth and Productivity and Social Welfare and Environment. The nature of South-South Cooperation in such areas is very much identical to ECO’s areas of activities, being effectively applicable to push the collaborative engagements amongst the regional and global stakeholders facilitating conducive and joint working environments for skill and knowledge sharing as well as through the introduction of successful initiatives in these specific sectors. This would considerably help our region to be equipped with certain means and methods of addressing the existing and emerging challenges.

Taking into account the above principles, targets, and activities, we consider ourselves as a vital contributor to South-South Cooperation in a wider region populated by half-a-billion people with rich historical and cultural heritage, stretching over Eastern Europe, Western, Southern and Central Asia.

Trade and Investment are important aspects of your work? What has been the relevancy of South-South Cooperation in this aspect of your work?

Trade and investment are an important part of ECO’s agenda to boost cooperation amongst the Member Countries which is also a priority of South-South Cooperation. In trade and investment, ECO aims at trade liberalization through tariff reduction under the ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) and this Agreement has been signed by five Contracting Parties amongst the ten ECO Member States (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey). This Agreement was signed in 2008 and ratified by the Contracting Parties. However, the agreement is yet to be implemented pursuant to some technicalities relating to tariff settlements. Trade is an important area that remains on top of the ECO agenda and priority. Similarly, ECO is working for the expansion of scope and activities related to trade facilitation in the region through various methods. In this regard, we are also working for strong intra-regional and inter-regional connectivity through creation of some new and up-gradation of existing transit-transport corridors.

ECO’s contribution to global trade stood at US $ 661 billion in 2020 with exports of US $ 289.78 billion and imports of US $ 371.4 billion. For the same year, Intra-ECO trade stood at around 49-50 billion US $ which is less than 8% of the ECO region’s trade with the rest of the world. Therefore, there is a lot of room for increasing cooperation among these ten developing economies to increase their Intra-regional trade.

Recently one of your members (Afghanistan) has seen significant changes. Do you think there is a role for South-South Cooperation in supporting a sustainable future for Afghanistan? Is ECO well positioned to facilitate the South-South Cooperation?

Afghanistan joined ECO in 1992 and we highly value the contribution of the country to the Organization. Reconstruction and development of Afghanistan has been under the focus of ECO. For instance, in 2004 the ECO Fund for Reconstruction of Afghanistan was established and ECO through this fund financed a number of projects on building hospitals and schools and other facilities.

To advance ECO’s presence in Afghanistan, the ECO Advocacy Programme for Afghanistan (EAPA) was adopted at the 23rd Council of Ministers (COM) (April 16-17, 2018, Dushanbe) and the ECO Fund for Reconstruction of Afghanistan was renamed as ECO Fund for Afghanistan.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent political as well as security related changes are having adverse effects on ECO activities in Afghanistan. However, despite such hindrances, we continue our efforts for restructuring the country and we hope that ECO is in a position to overcome these complexities in the near future.

The XIV Summit of The Heads of State and Government of ECO Member States held on 4 March 2021 once again demonstrated unambiguous support of the Organization to various economic projects in Afghanistan that have regional importance.

It should be noted that despite known difficulties in transport-transit and other projects, Afghanistan is steadily progressing. For example, at the beginning of the current year, the Iran-Afghan Khaf-Herat portion of the Khaf-Rozanak railway was commissioned. At the Turkmen-Afghan border, a 30-kilometer section of the Aqina-Andhoy railway was commissioned. Furthermore, fiber-optic cables and electricity transmission lines are being constructed from the neighbouring countries. All the ECO Member States are supportive of the project to link Iran’s Chabahar port with Afghanistan. There are plans to connect various parts of the country with railway links, which would enable Afghanistan to take the advantage of its transport and transit potential.

We acknowledge the strong interdependence between peace and development, and reiterate our firm belief that peace and stability are essential for realizing the genuine goals of economic growth, sustainable development and welfare of our countries and peoples. I am of the view that a successful realization of the above socio-economic projects will contribute not only to the growth of Afghanistan’s economy and its prosperity but will also have significant impact on the stability of the country. In the current scenario, I would also like to invite our international partners to join us in our efforts for the reconstruction of Afghanistan that would prove useful not only to Afghanistan and the ECO countries but also to the entire Eurasian region.

What would you like to see introduced or changed in the way we have been applying South-South Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region?

Economic stability is essential for realizing sustainable development goals and development cooperation in any region. I understand that there is a need for expansion of collaboration at regional and global levels in different areas for addressing human development issues especially in developing countries. Bearing in mind the efficacy of diverse interactions, I am convinced that the creation of an environment conducive for joint action between ECO and UNOSSC would certainly help to secure our mutual developmental targets in certain areas of cooperation that may include health, education and natural disasters, etc. Any advancement to materialize this approach on both ends could be critical, indeed, to support the process of sustainable development in the emerging and developing economies. Moreover, enhancing facilitation of information exchange and technical assistance can be a pragmatic step towards addressing development goals through South-South Cooperation.

Are there any other thoughts that you would like us to convey to readers?

Speaking on behalf of an economic organization, I believe that there is a great need of creating solid inter-regional and global nexus for refreshing and rejuvenating the adequate socioeconomic conditions especially in the developing nations. In this regard, I do consider that sustainable intra-regional, inter-regional and global modes of connectivity can actually stir and activate the multinational trade and other relevant economic activities to push the mutual progress and prosperity of the nations. In this context, ECO is ardently pursuing its developmental aims and objectives, particularly in the field of transit-transport and human resources. Such efforts are intended to trigger accelerated and desirable outcomes if augmented with collaboration between ECO and UNOSSC by developing feasible mechanisms to this end.

Do you have any proposals/ ideas/ projects incorporating South-South cooperation in the next few years?

There is tremendous potential in areas where both ECO and UNOSSC can jointly contribute to South-South cooperation in the next few years. However, to start with, I may underline some important areas of activities that may be worked upon jointly by ECO and UNOSSC in special consideration of the situation obtaining in the aftermath of COIVD-19 pandemic. Such areas may include joint projects for assisting intra-regional trade, supporting regional cooperation in energy and environment, fueling the small and medium enterprises, boosting small businesses as well as facilitating the continuity of transit-transport to keep medical and food supply chains intact with particular focus on support to the most deserving and vulnerable communities in the region.

How can the UNOSSC facilitate your Office’s work to help scale up South-South Cooperation?

I would like to appreciate the remarkable role that the UNOSSC is playing to support the economies of developing nations. As I mentioned earlier, ECO nations and the regional economies have been experiencing direct and indirect massive adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. ECO is genuinely ready and receptive to work with UNOSSC and all regional as well as global stakeholders to address the issues that hamper socio-economic progress of the region. In this regard, UNOSSC’s experiences can play a vital role to support our agenda for developing strengths and capacities of the ECO Member States in various areas including creative technological capacity development. In addition, joint studies and research activities, exchange of information and good practices in shared areas of progress and prosperity, can assist socio-economic development in the ECO region.

H.E. Ambassador Khusrav Noziri, a Tajikistan national, is the 13th Secretary General of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), who assumed the office in August 2021. He was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and graduated from the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the Tajik State University in 1991. Before becoming the Secretary General of ECO, he served as the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan.

Prior to this, Ambassador Noziri was appointed Ambassador of Tajikistan to Egypt (2014 – 2019), Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the League of Arab States (2015 – 2019), Non-Resident Ambassador of Tajikistan to South Africa (2015 – 2019), to Ethiopia (2016 – 2019), to Algeria (2016 – 2019) and to Morocco (2016 – 2019). At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, he was the Head of the Department of Asian and African Countries (2013 – 2015), the Head of the Department of International Organizations (2013) and the Head of the Department of European and American Countries (2008 – 2009). During his diplomatic career he was posted as Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan to the United Nations in New York (2009 – 2013) and First Secretary at the Embassy of Tajikistan in Beijing (2001 – 2007).

By the Decree of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan No. 1571, dated 14 July 2020, Ambassador Noziri was awarded the Medal of Dignified Service. He speaks Persian, Russian, English and Arabic.