The premiers of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday set out the SCO budget for 2004, which will be used to fund a Beijing secretariat and an anti-terrorism center in Tashkent from January 1.
"The six prime ministers signed a guiding document today on the long-term multilateral economic and trade cooperation of the SCO," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said.
"This is of far reaching significance as it has brought the economic cooperation of the SCO into a new era... to bring economic and trade cooperation into the SCO is the biggest achievement of this meeting."
Wen further proposed setting up an SCO free trade zone to "promote the facilitation of trade and investment" within the grouping.
The SCO was formally established two years ago and grew out of efforts in the 1990s to strengthen confidence-building measures in the border regions, but gradually broadened its agenda to fight terrorism and separatism in the region.
The focus of the body has shifted to trade from terrorism in the wake of the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The SCO will press ahead with plans for an anti-terrorism center based in the capital of Uzbekistan, which has developed friendly ties with the United States during Washington's so-called war on terrorism.
"Today we signed an important document on economic and trade. Our organization's initial phase has essentially come to an end," Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov told journalists.
"Apart from our political cooperation of recent years, today we now undertake the signing of a multilateral economic cooperation framework to give new momentum to efforts to boost our economic and trade ties."
Also attending the one-day meeting were Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev, Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov and Uzbek Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov.
Wen and Kasyanov will hold a bilateral meeting Wednesday, where they were likely to discuss a 2.5 billion-dollar oil pipeline between Russia's Angarsk oil fields in Siberia to Chinese refineries in northeastern Daqing city.
The 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) route, due to be constructed by 2005, is expected to bring 5.1 billion tons (720 million barrels) of crude to Chinese refineries in Daqing over the first 25 years of operation.
However, it has come under threat from a rival Japanese project, which observers have said may be more attractive to the Russians, because it could help bring in much-needed funding from Japan.
AFP, September 23, 2003