Blue Economy is a globally-nascent concept. Although the idea of Blue Economic growth is being discussed internationally for the past several years now, till today there is no accepted definition of this concept. The concept of Blue Economy gained prominence when it was published for the first time in a book by Gunter Pauli in 2010. This book discusses Blue Economy as an opportunity to not only create a better business environment and improve the economy of any country but also provide a whole new technique for sustainable development. Later on, this idea of Blue Economy was also floated at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in June 2012 when the concept of green economy failed to serve the island states. Undoubtedly, Blue Economy is an offshoot of Green Economy as it highlights the proper and efficient use of oceans’ resources for greater economic growth, and also ensures environmental sustainability at the same time.
Pakistan hosts the most favourable conditions for Blue Economic growth, and has a massive untapped potential for it. Pakistan holds great significance when it comes to its geostrategic and geoeconomic positions, being a host to the Indian Ocean through the Arabian Sea. The world oceans already add a great value to the global economy i.e. $1.5 trillion yearly as estimated by OECD which may potentially increase to $3 trillion by 2030. The Indian Ocean links to some of the busiest international marine routes like the South China Sea, Strait of Malacca, Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal, Red Sea, and Mediterranean Sea. Ultra-large containerships pass through these nautical pathways which make them essential for the global energy supply. The Indian Ocean holds the responsibility to traffic half the world’s container ships, 70% of petroleum transport, 31% reserves of gas, and 65% of strategic raw material reserves.
Contemporarily, Pakistan’s Blue Economy mostly depends on marine transport through Port Qasim and Karachi Port. Together the revenue generated by these ports is more than Rs 20 billion per year. This can be substantially increased with a proficient utilization of the Gwadar Port under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Gwadar port which is worth US$ 62 billion has the potential to function as a hub of transhipment, ship maintenance and building due to its close proximity to the Straits of Hormuz and Suez Canal. Through Gwadar, Pakistan provides the shortest maritime routes to China, Afghanistan, and Central Asian Republics(CARs). In addition, Pakistan does most of its trade i.e. 95% through sea. For this purpose, 290 000 sq km Exclusive Economic Zone and an extended Continental Shelf of 350 nautical miles are worth mentioning which are used for a variety of activities, including both exploration and exploitation. It is high time for Pakistan to take blue economic initiatives to the next level by internalizing the blue economic model. This requires development of technology and human resources along with taking initiatives in the marine industry, fishery, breeding, seaside tourism industries, and regional and bay development projects.
Blue growth initiatives can act as an ‘economic engine’ for Pakistan’s wrecked economy. Blue Economic model does not only assist in economic growth but also leads to sustainable economic growth with poverty eradication leading to development. Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations’ 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development and implementing a blue economic model is in line with the Sustainable development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Internalizing the Blue Economy can act as a solution to multi-faceted problems: preservation of water resources to cope with global water crisis, innovative and sustainable development of economy and promotion of marine economy as a parallel option for the economic growth of the country. These solutions, however, require a 3Cs approach: Cohesion, Coordination, and Collaboration by all segments of the society. The first step in this blue revolution is to include the blue growth model into the National Maritime Policy of Pakistan, which was promulgated in 2002. It is the first and the only Maritime Policy of Pakistan. A revised National Maritime Policy is required which must be dynamic in nature realizing the maritime potential of Pakistan.
Pakistan has a lot of avenues to strengthen its Blue Economy. With the increase in the value of dollar, global economic recession post-COVID-19 and geopolitical issues, the only way out for Pakistan is its socio-economic growth and blue economic model gives that opportunity. For now, Pakistan has been leaning too much on (CPEC) in order to yield maximum benefits from the blue economic setup. It is the need of the hour for Pakistan to look for multiple zones having maritime potential. One such example is of coastal tourism. Pakistan has immense potential with more than a 1000-km- long coastline and diversity of natural, religious and cultural resources. Pakistan is lagging behind in the tourism sector as compared to its neighbours like India and Maldives. Post- 18th Amendment, National Tourism Policy 1990 is not valid, and now provinces can take charge of the tourism sector by themselves. Boating tourism, marine sports, and beach and other aquatic environment development are the sectors to be worked on.
Since the past decade, Blue Economy has entered into a new phase of innovation and exploration. Many countries have henceforth proposed various macro-economic strategies and action plans to develop blue economic model; EU’s Blue Growth Strategy and Blue Innovation Plan promotes cooperation between maritime business and public authorities across borders and sectors, Indonesia’s Sustainable and Equal Growth of Marine and Coastal Regions focuses on boosting regional economic development and encouraging innovative investments in maritime sectors for sustainable growth, and China’s blue economic initiative aims to establish “China Qingdao Blue Silicon Valley, a new town of marine science and technology”. All these models are a perfect representation of coordination between marine and land economies.
In the present times when we are heading towards depletion of most of the resources for the future generation, Blue Economy provides the ground for fueling the economies of the world in a sustainable way. Blue Economic sectors bring both employment and opportunities for the people around the globe. Fishing has employed 350 million people, directly and indirectly. The crude oil extractions have already begun from the deep sea waters that will increase to 34% in crude oil productions by 2025.
Pakistan holds a significant geostrategic position, lying at the cusp of Arabian Sea, close to the Strait of Hormuz, and that is why CPEC was initiated by China. CPEC projects have the capacity for regional connectivity, connecting China’s western Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s southern belt. However, it cannot be ignored that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) involves both land and maritime elements. CPEC, it must be noted, is mostly focused on the former. Undoubtedly, CPEC could be a supporting pillar for the weak economy of Pakistan, but given the technological developments and Indian progression in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Pakistan needs to have a deeper, robust strategic for the said region. In order to avoid any isolation in the face of Indian hegemonic designs in IOR, Pakistan needs to strengthen itself by taking advantage of its blue growth potential, with a view to connecting with the neighbourhood.
Even though Pakistan is primarily a littoral state of in the IOR, it is not a part of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) or the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Therefore, many regional symposia and fora are held without Pakistan’s involvement. India, with the support of the U.S., has been aggressively progressing in the IOR, touting itself as the ‘Net Security Provider’ in the region to balance off against China. For this purpose, many military agreements were signed in the past few years between the U.S. and India like Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA). Other than these developments, India has also strengthened its at-sea deterrent with the commissioning of INS Arihant. All these strategic and military developments are creating threatening conditions for Pakistan by challenging its only ray of hope that is CPEC. However, if the Government of Pakistan formulates an Indian Ocean Policy (IOP) that incorporates the blue growth initiatives, it may attract the other littoral states of IOR and the energy-rich CARs. As of today, Pakistan needs to develop stronger ties with its strategic allies to secure itself against India, and Blue Economic sector has all the potential for greater connectivity across regions.
This makes it evident that Blue Economy for Pakistan must be considered as a matter of both high and low politics. This model is required to be internalized as a matter of national urgency, to ensure the socio-economic growth of the country which needs synchronization between both the private and public sectors. Considering the economic conditions of the country, any decision regarding any new project must be made on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. It needs cross-sectoral long term policies which can be formulated by creating synergy between the public and private sectors. This synergy could be attained if both the sectors work for their respective targets but share information through communication and technology. Another important factor for the promotion of the Blue Economy is mitigating the challenges imposed due to ‘Sea-blindness’. Thus, the Government of Pakistan needs to focus on capacity-building and knowledge-enhancement, to improve the blue economic sector. These coordinated efforts will definitely kick start sustainable approaches for economic growth of Pakistan and will help in conservation of marine resources.
Rutt Syed is a Lecturer in the School of Integrated Social Sciences, University of Lahore.