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Lawmakers Announce Plan to Seek Trade Preferences for Afghanistan and Pakistan Congressional Quarterly  

By Caitlin Webber

March 5, 2009

Lawmakers in both houses are seeking trade preferences for Afghanistan and Pakistan to help combat growing militancy along the border between the two countries.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Wednesday he planned to introduce legislation that would create "reconstruction opportunity zones" in the two countries, where goods could be exported to the United States duty-free. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced a related measure last week.

Advocates hope the measure will bolster U.S. diplomacy with incentives as the Obama administration seeks a new approach to fighting Islamic militants.

"We're trying to get this passed as soon as possible," Van Hollen said. "This particular piece of legislation does not have a big price tag. It's a way to spur economic activity without big upfront cost."

He said his measure would complement a proposal to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, an idea touted by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the panel's ranking Republican.

Obama administration officials welcomed the proposal, along with ambassadors from Pakistan and Afghanistan, who were on hand to lend support when Van Hollen announced it.

"We fully share the goal of this legislation to fuel sustainable economic development and provide legitimate employment opportunities to the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in the very troubled border areas, as an alternative to violent extremism," said Paul Jones, the deputy to Richard C. Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But previous efforts to allow textiles from the two countries into the United States duty-free have faced stiff opposition from domestic manufacturers.

Afghan Ambassador Said T. Jawad said the program, modeled on a similar one in Jordan, would boost efforts to develop his country.

"We are seeing an increase of military forces, which is very much needed," Jawad said. "But at the same time, fighting terrorism is not just killing terrorists. It's providing hope and jobs for the Afghan people."

Van Hollen said he preferred the legislation to be passed on its own, but he didn’t exclude the possibility of moving the proposal as part of supplemental war spending legislation expected to surface in the House in a few weeks.

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