Two new key trade corridors between Iran and Central Asian countries, through Afghanistan, have been launched and are expected to considerably boost trade activities in the region.
According to Ruhollah Latifi, spokesman for the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration (IRICA), the two corridors are the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran (KTAI) route and the Iran-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan corridor.
He told Tehran Times that the aim of the corridors is to bolster trade via Iranian borders.
According to IRICA, Iran sent two shipments of goods from Shahid Rajaei Port in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas to Uzbekistan via the newly established Iran-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan corridor a few weeks ago. This was a pilot operation to assess the route and proved successful.
According to IRICA Director of Transit Bureau Mostafa Ayati, the launch of the KTAI route in late July was also successful.
Ayati said as a short and low-cost route to Central Asian countries under the TIR Convention, the development of transit corridors through Afghanistan is supported by both international bodies and the Iranian government.
He said all stakeholders were determined to develop this sector.
“The pilot opening of this corridor indicates that Afghanistan is seriously determined to develop transit in its territory and connect Central Asian countries to the southern waters, including the ports along the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman (Chabahar),” he noted.
Tehran Times reported that on July 26, Iran sent two truckloads of goods from Shahid Rajaei Port to Kyrgyzstan through the KTAI corridor for the first time.
The corridor was launched by IRICA in collaboration with the International Road Transport Union (IRU), and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) under the framework of the TIR Convention.
The Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) is a multilateral treaty that was concluded in Geneva on 14 November 1975 to simplify and harmonize the administrative formalities of international road transport.
A third corridor, India-Iran-Afghanistan route, is another critical route for trade through Iran between India and Afghanistan. This route is already up and running. Recently the seventh shipment of wheat from India for Afghanistan arrived at Chabahar Port.
$1 billion worth of precious stones smuggled out of the country annually
The Afghanistan Precious Stones Association says that after 20 years, government has still not been able to stop the smuggling of precious stones out of the country.
Officials from the association say on average about $1 billion worth of precious stones is smuggled out of Afghanistan every year.
According to them, these stones are sold on foreign markets under the name of neighboring countries.
The association has in turn accused government, especially the Ministry of Mines, of being negligent.
“If I tell you a billion dollars’ worth is smuggled abroad but the government has no plans and it is very easy to take it out and no one has been introduced to any [judicial] body to be prosecuted,” said Mirza Mohammad, deputy head of the association.
Officials say that if the process of extracting precious stones is legalized and regulated, government will generate billions of dollars in revenue.
The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum says that serious measures have been taken to prevent the smuggling of precious stones.
According to the ministry new gemstone processing plants will be established in the new solar year – 1400.
“We have discussed the issue of illegal mining and smuggling with the National Security Council, and will set up two processing centers, one in Kunar and the other in Kabul,” said Mohammad Aziz Gharwal, spokesman for the ministry.
Economists say that if government does not stop the looting of national assets, Afghanistan will face serious economic problems.
Kabul working with UAE to digitize customs ports
Afghanistan has sought the UAE’s help to digitize its logistics infrastructure in order to facilitate regional trade in its push to become a bridge between South and Central Asia and the Gulf.
According to Emirates News Agency (WAM), Afghan Ambassador to the UAE Javid Ahmad said in an interview Afghanistan has a “planned large-scale programme on digitalisation with the UAE, which would involve digitalisation of our trade and logistics infrastructure.”
He said Afghanistan is in talks with a UAE firm to look into the schematics of the country’s dry ports and customs ports to see how they can mainstream the customs revenue collection, WAM reported.
“That’s very important for us, because an estimated 46 percent of our government revenues come from customs but the current system allows some loopholes for leakages, waste and misallocations,” Ahmad said.
“We believe that if we want Afghanistan to be the land bridge between South and Central Asia, regional connectivity is important, especially as part of our own plan for economic growth,” he said.
Afghanistan wants to extend its connectivity beyond South and Central Asia towards Arabian Gulf, particularly the UAE, through Port Qasim in Karachi, Pakistan and Chabahar Port in south-eastern Iran, he explained.
“We need to get logistics revamped and we are engaged with the UAE firm to see whether they could come and study to completely reform and restructure it, which would also include technology transfer,” Ahmad told WAM.
He said Afghanistan realises the future is digital and said government was also working with the UAE to create a unified communication infrastructure network, especially for key government institutions. “That includes important technological support, for example, on data integration systems. We are engaging with the UAE on this and it is a flagship project,” he said.
Ahmad also revealed that efforts are underway to establish a joint UAE-Afghanistan Business Council.
He said other priority sectors included the bilateral economic agenda, agriculture and aviation sectors.
The aviation sector is important “especially because the UAE’s three-company consortium is already managing four of our international airports. So now we’re looking to see how in the aviation sector UAE’s engagement could deepen to include, for example, building a passenger terminal, building a cargo terminal, as well as establishing a logistical and food processing zone,” the envoy explained.
Ghani tells ECO Summit peace is critical to region’s future
President Ashraf Ghani said at the 14th ECO Summit held virtually on Thursday that Afghanistan is poised to serve as a roundabout between central, east, south and west Asia and a platform of international and regional cooperation.
Ghani said internationally managed and monitored elections to elect the next president is critical in ensuring a balance between constitutional continuity and change.
Ghani said Pakistan has an especially significant role to play in supporting a lasting peace process, for it is the country most likely to suffer from the adverse consequences of a failed peace process.
Addressing the virtual gathering, Ghani said: “We, the people and government of Afghanistan and our international partners, have a true sense of urgency to make and build peace. Your support for a comprehensive ceasefire to accelerate the negotiations in Doha is essential.”
He said for forty-two years, “we have been denied the fundamental right to peace. It is time to stop the violence that has turned our beautiful country into a killing field.”
The 14th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) was chaired this year by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The theme of the Summit “Regional Economic Cooperation in the Aftermath of COVID-19” saw leaders of regional countries share their perspectives on COVID-19 challenges.
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