A new EU trade related assistance initiative for Afghanistan that aims to speed up the country’s integration in regional and international commerce was announced in Kabul on Tuesday. The initiative – Afghanistan: trade for economic growth and regional cooperation (ATEG) – will lay the foundation for strengthening the country’s trade capacities and building a business-friendly environment, with a long-term goal of Afghanistan – and its regional partners – becoming a vibrant regional economic hub.
Funded by the European Union, the €4.5 million ATEG project will use trade as a lever for economic growth, job creation poverty reduction and enhanced regional cooperation. The three-year project, which follows the high-level Brussels Conference on Afghanistan held in October 2016, will be implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in close collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce and Industries. In its initial phase the project will build the capacity of policy makers to negotiate, formulate and implement trade policies and strategies, including by ensuring private-sector participation in these processes.
The launch of the project follows a detailed needs-assessment mission carried out by ITC in 2015. Over the life of the project ITC will focus on developing and implementing a national export strategy for the Government of Afghanistan with a special focus on agricultural exports and provide training to government officers on trade policy and trade negotiations. ITC will also support the establishment of a National Trade Facilitation Committee, building the capacity of SMEs to comply with cross-border procedures and requirements, and improving mechanisms needed to ensure a constructive public-private dialogue.
The intervention is recognition of ongoing efforts by the Afghan government to use trade as driver of economic growth, regional cooperation and stability. Afghanistan acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016 and has placed trade and regional economic cooperation at the heart of its development strategy. Its first action after acceding to the WTO was to ratify the body’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Speaking at the launch event in Kabul, the EU’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Franz-Michael Mellbin said: ‘The EU is determined to ensure that Afghanistan can benefit from the opportunities arising from greater participation in international trade and enhanced regional economic integration. This project will help improve national capacities to design and implement a coherent export strategy and it will help develop and implement a regulatory framework that will guide the reform agenda of the Afghan Government to improve trade links and cooperation.’
Humayoon Rasaw, Afghanistan’s Minister of Commerce and Industries, said: ‘International trade is a crucial tool to ensure economic growth and job creation. Trade is a means for Afghanistan’s to move away from dependency on aid and on a path towards a future built on engagement with other countries that will help bring stability to the country and to the region.’
ITC Executive Director Ms. Arancha González said: ‘Situated at heart of the old Silk Road, Afghanistan is a country shaped by trade. It is a country with huge untapped resources and, by putting in place the right policies and mechanisms, we aim to build a better and more stable Afghanistan that once again finds it place in the global trading system.’
To ensure sustainability, local ownership and long-term impact of the project, ITC will be working with a range of partners, including the private sector, non-governmental organizations, academia and civil-society organizations based in Afghanistan.