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UN-backed conference seeks to boost regional trade through Afghanistan

UN-backed conference seeks to boost regional trade through Afghanistan

Mark Malloch Brown
For more than two decades, Afghanistan's war-torn borders were an obstacle to trade from South to Central Asia, but a United Nation-backed conference is now seeking to exploit the new opportunities in the region to boost economic cooperation, trade and transit.

"Regional cooperation is a necessity and not an option," the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, told 150 delegates from eight countries in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, today.

For the first time in Afghanistan's history, the basis for expanding political and social freedoms is being laid, he said, adding that it was clear that the destinies of the region's countries are tied, for good or ill, since few parts of the world are as interdependent as the Central Asian region.

The conference for "Afghanistan's Regional Economic Cooperation: Central Asia, Iran and Pakistan" is aimed at helping Afghanistan's re-entry into the regional economy by mapping out new opportunities for trade and investment and considering actions to regularize trade and transit and harmonize customs procedures.

"Our intention is to explore new opportunities for bilateral and multilateral cooperation. It is not only Afghanistan that can benefit from this discussion. It is an important event for each and every country here," UNDP's Resident Representative in Kyrgyzstan, Jerzy Skuratowicz, told yesterday's opening session.

"Our politics is the politics of poverty reduction and economic cooperation," Afghanistan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said. "We must focus on ways to make the entire region competitive because the advantages are immense."

Afghanistan already has the lowest tariffs in the region, simplified customs rules, and liberal investment laws to encourage private and public investment.

"Pakistan considers Afghanistan not a landlocked country but a land-linking country," said Tariq Ikram, Pakistan's Minister for State and Chairman of the Export Promotion Bureau. "We appreciate the wide ranging policy reforms introduced by the Afghanistan Government."

Iran's Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, told the opening session: "The world paid a price for ignoring Afghanistan. We wish that price won't have to be paid again. Investing in Afghanistan is investing in the security of our countries."