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Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Described as Major Boost for Afghan Economy

Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs), a new economic stimulus program for Afghanistan and border areas of Pakistan, were the subject of a Afghanistan Business Dialogue Series held on March 15th at the Embassy of Afghanistan.

The ROZ concept was introduced by President George W. Bush as an integral part of a larger economic development program of the U.S. government for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It is a preferential program, loosely modeled after the existing Qualified Industrial Zones in Jordan and Egypt.  Following U.S. Congressional approval, ROZs would offer duty-free U.S. market access for certain products while creating new employment opportunities.  The entire territory of Afghanistan and certain portions of the border regions for Pakistan are eligible for ROZ designation.

Ambassador of Afghanistan Said T. Jawad expressed the Government of Afghanistan’s full support for ROZs in his remarks. Recognizing that ROZs are a joint initiative involving Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, Ambassador Jawad said, “While ROZs are an important part of the economic development process in Afghanistan, it will also make a significant contribution towards regional cooperation and prosperity as well as global security.”  The Ambassador likewise acknowledged the strong sense of support and cooperation between the U.S. Administration and Congress towards Afghanistan.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Trade Policy and Programs Mr. Chris Moore and Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for South Asia Mr. Claudio Lilienfeld were on hand to articulate the U.S. Government’s perspective on ROZs.  Mr. Moore described the concept of ROZs as part of the three strategic components for success in Afghanistan: stability and security, a working infrastructure, and empowerment of the private sector.  “Afghanistan needs more foreign direct investment, larger [industrial] operations and a focus on export in order to grow economically,” he said.

Mr. Lilienfeld recognized the important role that the private sector is playing in rebuilding the Afghan state. “The Government of Afghanistan can facilitate investment, but it is up to the business community to make this happen,” he said.

President of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce Mr. Atiq Panjshiri spoke about the benefits of ROZs to the private sector and welcomed the potential of spreading economic development outside of Kabul and to the border areas shared with Pakistan.  Executive Vice President of the Chamber Mr. Assad Mattin emphasized the urgent need for immediate assistance to Afghanistan, and recommended the rapid development of ROZs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Representatives from over 60 organizations attended the Afghanistan Business Dialogue, including officials from U.S. and Afghan-American private companies, U.S. government agencies, non-profits, think tanks, and the diplomatic corp. Kandahar Automotive Association, an Afghanistan-based trade association, was represented by the organization’s President, Said Wali.

The Afghanistan Business Dialogue is a series of quarterly discussions, seminars and workshops jointly organized by the Embassy of Afghanistan and President of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce.  Previous events include USAID Procurement and Contracting, World Bank Procurement and Contracting, Opportunities in Afghanistan's Energy Sector, and Opportunities in Privatization.

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