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Second Annual U.S.–Afghanistan Trade & Investment Council Meeting Convenes

Afghanistan’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Mir Muhammad Amin Farhang concluded his third official visit to the U.S. on July 11, 2007 following the second official meeting of the U.S.–Afghanistan Council on Trade & Investment. In addition to bilateral talks with the U.S. government, Dr. Farhang signed a Joint Statement on Commercial Cooperation with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. Major issues covered in the visit included discussions over the establishment of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs), enhancing export processing for Afghan producers and Afghanistan’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Minister Farhang and Ambassador Douglas Hartwick, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for South and Southwest Asia co-chaired the TIFA Council meeting. The chairs joined Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Said T. Jawad and representatives from key U.S. and Afghan government departments/ministries.

The Afghan government welcomed an initiative to create ROZs within Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan as a means of facilitating foreign investment, creating jobs, and fostering regional cooperation, particularly in the critical area of transit trade facilitation.  U.S. officials from several agencies including USTR and Department of State expressed their determination to obtain U.S. Congressional support for the program at the earliest time possible.

In order to further facilitate private sector investment and provide the necessary infrastructure for processing and storage of highly perishable exports, Minister Farhang proposed the establishment of Trade Facilitation Zones on the borders of major exporting provinces in Afghanistan. These exports have the potential to spur development in numerous rural Afghan provinces, but 60% of the product is currently wasted due to an absence of cold storage facilities and other crucial trade infrastructure. Both countries also agreed to cooperate to speed up Afghanistan’s accession to the WTO and agreed to address the current weak utilization by Afghan exporters of duty-free access to the U.S market under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program of the United States for Least Developed Countries.

Ambassador Jawad addressed the TIFA delegates on the need for the U.S. and the international community to continue to build Afghanistan’s trade capacity. “What Afghanistan needs is ‘Aid to Trade.’  Afghanistan’s most valuable commodity is her fruits – the melons, pomegranates and grapes that have inspired poets to mythologize their superior taste. Afghan farmers do not want handouts from the United States, but they do want access to your consumers. They want Americans to be able to buy Afghan pomegranates at Whole Foods and Safeway. This assistance will allow us to discover our own homegrown path to success,” he said.

Issues relating to Afghanistan’s current investment climate and export promotion efforts were also discussed with a focus on energy, mining, agriculture and standards.  These issues were independently taken up with relevant U.S. government departments such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Trade and Development Agency, and the Department of Agriculture.  In addition, both governments were briefed by the leadership of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce representing Afghanistan’s private sector, the ultimate beneficiary of the U.S.–Afghan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

On July 10, 2007, Minister Farhang and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gutierrez signed a Joint Statement on Commercial Cooperation, enhancing the commercial relationship between the Afghanistan Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the U.S. Department of Commerce.  The Statement establishes the framework for continued bilateral cooperation on achieving Afghanistan’s goals of creating an environment conducive to economic reform, private sector development and trade expansion in the key sectors of dried fruits & nuts, carpets, marble while addressing the critical need to develop standards.

The Afghan delegation to the U.S. included Deputy Minister of Energy & Water, Mir Mohammad Ashan Sediq, Director of Policy of the Ministry of Mines & Industries Naymkhozman Ulomi, President of the Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan Suleman Fatimie, President & CEO of the Afghanistan National Standards Authority Popal Popalzai, President of the International Trade Directorate of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry Azim Wardak, and Senior Advisor to the Minister of Commerce & Industry Mohammad Shah Hachemi.

The U.S.–Afghan Council on Trade and Investment was established under the auspices of the U.S.–Afghanistan TIFA signed by the leadership of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industry in September 2004.  The TIFA institutionalized the economic relations between the two countries.  The first consultation meeting was held in December 2005.

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