A bloc of nations that includes China and five Eurasian countries pledged to boost cross-border trade yesterday and explore the shared use of each other's currencies.
At the 8th annual prime ministers' summit in Beijing, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - broadly discussed enhancing economic ties.
Though the summit included representatives from observer nations Mongolia, Pakistan and Iran as well as guest country Afghanistan, Premier Wen Jiabao did not mention the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Chaired by Wen, the meeting created "a unique opportunity for exchanging opinions and working out a specific plan", he said.
He said all member states agreed to open a "special SCO bank account to resolve the financing problem of cooperation on large projects".
The agreement also called for finance ministers and central bank governors from the countries to meet later this year in Kazakhstan to explore the use of each member states' currencies in intergroup trade.
"All parties agreed to make trade easier, complete infrastructure at each country's borders and improve work efficiency at customs to facilitate commodity flow within the region," Wen said.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged the SCO, established in 2001, to "use the potential of our cooperation for post-crisis development".
Experts said one key aspect that needs to be improved for an efficient cross-border trade within the bloc is the "bottleneck in transportation".
China's trade volume with Tajikistan, for example, reached $470 million in the first half of 2009. It was only about $69 million five years ago, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
But the figure could rise if the two countries were connected by a rail-line, said Zhang Ning, an analyst at the Institute of Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Zhang added that China has one railway link with Kazakhstan, the only connection to all SCO Eurasian member states.
One footnote to the summit was a letter posted on www.alemarah.info by the Taliban that urged the SCO to help the radical Islamic movement "liberate" the country from US troops.
It called on summit participants "to render assistance ... (for) the liberation of the people (Afghans) and countries of the region from the claws of the colonialists and take a decisive stand regarding the West's invasion of Afghanistan," Reuters reported.
Masood Khan, Pakistan's ambassador to China, on Friday also called for the SCO to "stay engaged" in the issue of Afghanistan.
Experts have said the SCO would never become a military alliance, though combating terrorism was one of its original missions. They said pursuing economic development is the organization's top issue.
Chen Yurong, director of the SCO Research Center of the Institute of International Studies, said economics was the "major issue" for the organization, although she had previously predicted that yesterday's summit would discuss regional peace.
Meng Xiangqing, a professor of the Beijing-based National Defense University, said: "Anti-terror is one of the most important topics."
But he also pointed out that it is "impossible to establish a military alliance like NATO".