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UNDP warns Afghan economy to contract by 6% due to COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: November 11, 2020)

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Afghanistan launched its latest COVID-19 impact assessment report on Wednesday and said the pandemic has set back Afghanistan’s economic growth by several years.

The report, the 4th since the coronavirus outbreak, exposed structural and resource gaps in responding to unforeseen events such as pandemics. The country had to reallocate resources from long-term development priorities to fighting this health crisis.

In a statement issued by the UNDP, the organization said the report, titled “Fiscal Options in Response to Coronavirus Crisis”, focused on the fiscal implications of COVID-19.

The UNDP stated it estimates that due to a combination of external and internal shocks, the Afghan economy will contract by around six percent in 2020.

“Assuming the recovery starts in 2021 and growth performance to be positive between 2021 and 2024, it will be moderate, and well below the pre-pandemic level.

“Without well thought-out recovery-oriented policies, this amounts to a cumulative loss of around 12.5 percent in real GDP by 2024,” read the statement.

UNDP said Afghanistan witnessed a sharp decline in revenues in 2020 due to low economic activity, trade disruption and weaker compliance brought on by the pandemic.

“The government had to adjust the revenue estimates downwards from Afs 209 billion (US$2.71 billion) in 2019 to Afs 144 billion (US$1.87 billion) during the mid-year budget review.”

UNDP stated it estimated an average of 17 percent decline in corporate tax revenue and 18 percent decline in personal income tax revenue.

“Tax on international trade will be the worst hit and revenues may decline to as low as 19 percent due to the decrease in imports, while tax revenue on goods and services might decline by 10 percent,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, UNDP stated the fiscal deficit is expected to increase to around four percent of GDP in 2020.

“The Government of Afghanistan needs to opt for policies and programmes to generate more revenue to address the fiscal deficit.

“Given the economic slowdown, a second wave of the pandemic, continued conflict, and an uncertain peace process and political environment, the country will continue to need grant support from the international community to address the fiscal deficit and maintain its current level of expenditure on basic services,” read the UNDP’s statement.

The organization also stated that additional grants need to be directed at driving and implementing reforms to improve the business regulatory environment, improve governance, encourage investment and strengthen the private sector.

According to the statement, the UNDP and other stated along with other international development partners, it would continue to support Afghanistan in the run up to the donor pledging conference later this month.

However they urged the Afghan government to address the immediate fiscal impact of the pandemic and help reverse its negative effects.

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Saffron producers appeal for global exports to resume

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(Last Updated On: October 23, 2021)

Afghanistan’s Saffron Producers Union on Saturday called on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to help restart the saffron production and export sector, which came to a grinding halt due to the coronavirus pandemic and the change in government.

Officials from the union said that unless something is done to restart business, the saffron industry could collapse.

They said that now, without commercial cargo flights into Afghanistan, their international market flow has dried up.

“We had products, but stopped because of COVID-19. Our products and exports have been stopped. If there is no [export] corridor for us saffron production will be stopped,” said Abdul Basir Azimi, an exporter of saffron.

Officials of the Chamber of Agriculture and Livestock meanwhile called on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to find a market for domestic products.

“Our saffron was ranked number one in the world several times, but now faces problems. Export environment should be provided for saffron,” said Mirwais Hajizada, deputy head of the chamber.

Economic analysts meanwhile urged the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL)

to support the export of domestic products.

“We have seen that some of our products have a special place in global markets, and have many customers in the world. Now the market for products has disappeared. The basic problems should be solved,” said Saeed-ur-Rahman Imran, an economic analyst.

Afghanistan’s saffron is a valuable revenue generator for the country and the industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers directly and indirectly.

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Rising wood prices a cause for concern in Kabul as winter looms

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(Last Updated On: October 21, 2021)

Kabul residents on Thursday raised concerns about rising prices of heating materials as people started shopping to prepare for winter.

During the winter, Afghan families typically keep warm by using a wood-burning bukhari, a drum-shaped stove made of thin metal, or a pit of burning coal under a small table covered by a heavy blanket.

Kabul resident Abdul Khaleq Hashemi urged the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) government to bring prices under control.

“The flour, rice, and oil taxes are in the control of the Taliban (IEA) and they should all have a certain fixed price. Same for wood, it should have a certain fixed price, and this issue should be brought under control. It is not right for everyone to sell wood at any price they want,” he said.

Facing an economic crisis as winter approaches, IEA officials appealed to the international community to release frozen assets of more than $9 billion and increase shipments of humanitarian relief as the nation faces an economic crisis.

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IEA won’t be allowed access to Afghan central bank reserves: US

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(Last Updated On: October 20, 2021)

Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo on Tuesday said he sees no situation where the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) who regained power in Afghanistan in August, would be allowed access to Afghan central bank reserves, which are largely held in the United States.

The IEA have called for the United States to lift a block on more than $9 billion of Afghan central bank reserves held outside the country as the government struggles to contain a deepening economic crisis.

“We believe that it’s essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban (IEA) but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Adeyemo told the Senate Banking Committee.

The IEA took back power in Afghanistan in August after the United States pulled out its troops, almost 20 years after the IEA were ousted by U.S.-led forces following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Washington and other Western countries are grappling with difficult choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms large in Afghanistan. They are trying to work out how to engage with the IEA without granting them the legitimacy they seek, while ensuring humanitarian aid flows into the country.

“Our goal is to make sure that we are implementing our sanctions regime against the Taliban (IEA) and the Haqqani network, but at the same time allowing for the permissible flow of humanitarian assistance into the country,” Adeyemo said.

The Haqqani network is a group affiliated with the IEA based near the border with Pakistan and blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war.

Adeyemo said the Treasury was taking every step it could within its sanctions regime to make clear to humanitarian groups that Washington wants to facilitate the flow of aid to the Afghan people, but warned that for humanitarian assistance to flow, the IEA have to allow it to happen within the country.

The Treasury last month further paved the way for aid to flow to Afghanistan despite U.S. sanctions on the IEA when it issued two general licenses.

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