Prime Minister Imran Khan has emphasised harnessing technology to empower youth, pushing back against vaccine nationalism, and fighting global challenges like debt, inequality, and the COVID-19 pandemic through global partnerships.

He said this while addressing the virtual tenth edition of the Developing-8 (D-8) Summit today. D-8 is an organisation for development cooperation among eight countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey.

The theme of this year’s summit, hosted by Bangladesh, was “Partnership for a Transformative World: Harnessing Power of Youth and Technology.”

Imran Khan began his address by congratulating Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on assuming stewardship of the D-8 and commending Turkish President Erdogan for ably steering the organisation during the past four years.

“Our world today is at a defining moment because of the inter-connectedness, and the economic, social, and environmental vulnerabilities created by this inter-connectedness,” he said.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the death of over 2.9 million people, while more than 250 million people became unemployed. Trillions of dollars were lost as a result of global economic contraction, and the virus took a heavy toll on poor countries and the poor in all countries, he added.

“Inequalities have been accentuated within the countries and between rich and poor countries,” he said. “The developing countries are faced with the dilemma of not only saving people from the deadly virus, but also saving from hunger.”

“Today, the world boasts the largest number of young people in history. Even before the pandemic struck, around one-fifth of the global youth was unemployed and did not have the education and the skills to equip them for the 21st century,” he said.

“We owe it to our youth to turn this around,” Imran Khan stressed, noting that D-8 countries have a 550-million youth population.

He said that opportunities must be created for young entrepreneurs, business innovators, technology pioneers, educators, activists, artists, and journalists by harnessing technology, promoting innovation, investing in youth education, skills, and training.

“We, in Pakistan, are pursuing these initiatives through programmes such as KamyabJawan, Hunarmand Pakistan, a Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, and Digital Pakistan,” Imran Khan said.

He added that contemporary global challenges of a changing world are a moving target that no single country can address the complexities of in isolation. Partnerships are essential, he said.

Imran Khan said the D-8 has a platform to work together for mutual benefit and win-win solutions, and should pay special attention to the three areas. He listed the following:

“Firstly, as net producers of primary global commodities, the D-8 must conceive projects that harness technology for supply-side improvements, with special emphasis on efficiency and productivity.

With costs of transportation and communications improving due to innovations, the D-8 members must partner to keep pace with logistics and global supply chains.

Secondly, the D-8 should brainstorm ideas to insulate its members from disruptions in labour markets due to technology and innovations.

As automation substitutes for labour across the world, the labour-intensive economies of D-8 face challenges of unemployment and social disruption.

Thirdly, the D-8 should call for COVID vaccine to be treated as a global public good, ensure equity, affordability, enhanced production and timely supply to save lives.

We must push back against vaccine nationalism and undue export restrictions. The global vaccine manufacturing companies must either speed up production or share their technology and expertise with developing countries for adequate vaccine supply.”

He said that the D-8 was established 23 years ago to improve member states’ position in the global economy, diversify and create new opportunities in trade relations, enhance participation in decision-making at international level, and improve standards of living.

“Today, D-8 is a grouping of over one billion people, with a combined GDP of US$ 4 trillion. We possess the two essential pre-requisites for growth – resources and enterprising people,” he said.

Prime Minister Imran then proposed that D-8 countries follow a five-pronged roadmap:

“One, we must mobilise financing and resources to recover robustly from the economic and health crises induced by the COVID pandemic.

To address the unique economic and financial challenges faced by developing countries as a result of the pandemic, I have already suggested a 5-point plan. This includes debt relief; creation and redistribution of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs); mobilisation of climate finance; eliminating illicit financial flows, and return of stolen assets to developing countries. It was in this context that I called for a “Global Initiative on Debt Relief” last April.

I invite the D-8 members to consider these five points and join in advocacy for COVID related relief measures.

Two, we must take concrete actions to achieve the target of expanding intra D-8 trade from currently around US$100 billion to US$500 billion by 2030. It should include measures like simplification of border procedures, enhancing institutional linkages, and operationalising new initiatives. We welcome ideas like the D-8 Payment Card which would enable transactions in local currencies.

Three, the D-8 should develop a “Youth Engagement Strategy” focused on promoting cultural, educational, and scientific and business exchanges. Linkages should be established between educational institutions through scholarships, skills development, trainings, fellowships, joint research, and exchange programmes for the youth, particularly in the field of science, technology and innovation.

Four, technological development is a gateway to economic prosperity, particularly in the post-pandemic period when reliance on technology would be greater than ever before in human history. To remain competitive, we must promote knowledge-based economies, increase expenditure on research and development, and focus on rapid digitalisation. Pakistan has recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the D-8 Network of Pioneers for Research and Innovation (NPRI).

Five, we should make D-8 more relevant to the lives of our citizens by promoting food security, enhancing cooperation in health, holding joint sports events and helping each other during natural disasters.”

The prime minister said that achieving these goals requires a high level of commitment and the mobilisation of financial resources by both developed and developing economies.

Partnerships between governments, international financial institutions, businesses and civil society are essential to leverage technology, innovation and skills to enable every young person to have all opportunities to realise their full potential, he concluded.

Anas Mallick is an international journalist who has been working as a field reporter for 7+ years now. With a focus on diplomacy, militancy, and conflict, Mallick's expertise involve Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. He tweets at @AnasMallick

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