It is a distinct honour and privilege for me to address the extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers (COM) of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO). I extend to you all the heartfelt greetings of the Turkish Cypriot people and our government.
I would like to convey to H.E. Mr. Halil İbrahim Akça our congratulations on the assumption of the post of secretary general of the ECO and wish him every success in this important post.
I would also like to thank the able staff of the ECO secretariat for their tireless efforts in organising this significant meeting.
The Turkish Cypriot state, shares a common history and culture with the member states, and is fully committed to the objectives of the ECO. Northern Cyprus has been participating in the Organization’s activities and events since 1992, attributing utmost significance to cooperation among the member states and to the development of the region. We welcomed the observer member status we were granted in 2012, which gave us the opportunity to further develop our economic relations with ECO member countries. Since the commencement of our observer status, our aim has been to contribute to and benefit from our strengthening relations with you all. Our hope and expectation is that our observer membership is renewed at this meeting in order to enable us to continue our good contacts with ECO member states.
I would like to take this opportunity to inform you about the latest political developments in Cyprus, which are promising.
As will be recalled, negotiations resumed in May 2015, with an aim to reach a comprehensive settlement on the Cyprus issue, which has been on the agenda of the international community for 5 decades.
The joint statement of the leaders dated 11 February 2014 as well as the convergences reached between the two sides since 2008 constitute the framework of a future settlement. The two leaders agreed in the joint statement that their goal is to achieve a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality and that this federation will have a single sovereignty which emanates equally from Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. The federation will be composed of two constituent states of equal status and neither side will claim authority or jurisdiction over the other.
Our newly elected president, H.E. Mr. Mustafa Akıncı, has confirmed that the Turkish Cypriot side remains fully committed to a structured, results-oriented negotiation process as foreseen by the joint declaration. The Turkish Cypriot side sincerely believes that if the two sides remain committed to the present intensified negotiation process, supported by confidence-building measures, and show the necessary political will, a solution is within reach in months, not years.
Northern Cyprus is a fast developing country with higher education and tourism as its two main economic sectors. Primarily our country is emerging as a center of higher education and a prominent holiday destination in the eastern Mediterranean.
Higher education constitutes an important sector of our economy. Today, there are 12 universities and nearly 77,000 students in North Cyprus. There are about 42,000 Turkish students from turkey, 14,000 local Turkish Cypriot students, and 21,000 international students. Overall, we have students from 112 countries and teaching staff from 65 countries. This depicts the international and diverse character of our higher education. It is a pleasure to state that about 6,000 of our students are from ECO member countries, mostly from Pakistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It is our primary objective, in the period ahead, to further increase the number of students from ECO countries studying at our universities.
In this context, we would welcome a decision by the member states to include our universities in the available and recommended options for the higher education of their students.
In line with the ECO objectives which foresee tourism as another important area of cooperation to be explored and developed for the benefit of member states, we strongly believe that our country with its unspoiled natural beauties, rich cultural heritage, eco-tourism opportunities and many other attractions is an ideal holiday destination for our brothers and sisters from the ECO member countries. According to the statistics in 2014, nearly 1.5 million tourists visited our country.
We are actively encouraging foreign investment to North Cyprus and I would like to take this opportunity to invite investors from the member countries to northern Cyprus to learn more about the investment opportunities and the incentives offered by our government. Investment opportunities exist especially in the tourism sector. Hotels and conference tourism, special interest tourism like yacht tourism and marina construction are just a few of the investment opportunities that await foreign businessmen in our country. Newly developing areas such as health tourism and agri-industry are also considered as attractive fields of investment for the private sector and foreign investors. Those wishing to invest in northern Cyprus can be sure of the support of our government. The relevant ministries, our State Planning Organization and the Cyprus Turkish investment promotion agency are at the disposal of potential investors and businessmen who would like to learn more about the extensive opportunities and incentives that we offer.
I am also delighted to state that our country has hosted four highly successful ECO events in the past. These events include the workshops on “Air and Water Pollution Control” in August 1998, “Waste Water Management and Treatment Technology” in May 2004, the “1st ECO University Sport Games” in April 2013, and most recently “The Workshop on Tourism” in April 2015. I would like to take this opportunity to state that we would be very happy to host future ECO events in northern Cyprus and to see you all there.
Unfortunately, the all-embracing isolation continues to be a harsh reality in the daily lives of all Turkish Cypriots, impeding their development in all fields of life. No doubt, the removal of the isolation, which is causing disparity between the two communities on the island in all spheres of life, would also contribute to the sustainability of a future settlement on the island.
We hope and trust that all the member states of ECO will, without any further delay, take concrete steps and contribute towards ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot people.
I would also like to take this opportunity to mention the ongoing water project which will transport drinking and irrigation water to Cyprus from Turkey with an 80 km-long underwater pipeline. The project will be completed by the end of this year is predicted to supply our water need for the next 50 years. Of the 75 million metric cubes, 37 million metric cubes will be used for irrigation purposes. In this way, a greater variety and quantity of agricultural products will be produced, significantly improving the agricultural sector and increasing our potential for trade with the ECO members.
Before I conclude, allow me to thank once again the ECO secretariat for their efforts in making this meeting a great success.
I thank you all for your most kind attention.”