KABUL, 19 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - Afghanistan is hosting a two-day meeting of the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO). The conference, which started on Sunday, is aiming to boost trade in the post-conflict country and boost economic cooperation in the region.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Commerce, the conference is the first international meeting of its kind for decades and is expected to encourage much needed foreign investment opportunities in Afghanistan.
"First of all, it is very important for Afghanistan, this meeting. The conference assures businessmen and tradesmen that this is the time to work here," Askhat Orazbay, ECO secretary-general, told IRIN following the launch of the conference in the capital Kabul.
To break the vicious cycle of persistent insecurity, a growing criminal economy, slow reconstruction and an extreme poverty, the Afghan government believes that it needs to achieve a per capita annual income of around $500 within 10 years, most of which will have to come through private investment.
The ECO meeting follows a major Afghan donor conference in Berlin on 31 March-1 April in which donor countries pledged at least $8.2 billion in aid for the country over the coming three years.
The ECO's member states are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They have a combined population of more than 300 million and rich gas and oil resources. The ECO was established by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey in 1985 to promote economic cooperation in the region. Afghanistan joined the ECO in 1992 along with six other central Asian states. The Kabul conference is the second ECO regional trade investment conference. The first was held on Kish Island off the southern coast of Iran in February 2003.
Representatives of ECO states and hundreds of business leaders and investors from the region participated in Sunday's meeting.
"The ECO conference is a major indicator that member states are counting on the investment situation in Afghanistan. We expect that business people from our neighbouring ECO countries will participate in developing our economy," the Afghan commerce minister, Sayed Mustafa Kazemi, told
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