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Regional economic conference could boost Afghan recovery

BISHKEK, 12 May 2004 (IRIN) - A high-level conference of government ministers and top business leaders from Central Asia, Iran and Pakistan ended in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday after looking at ways the region can contribute to the economic revival of Afghanistan.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative for Afghanistan, Ercan Murat, gave a positive assessment of the results of the conference and its consequences for the economic revival of Afghanistan. "We are happy with the warm response of regional governments regarding economic cooperation with Afghanistan," he told IRIN in Bishkek."Trade and economic cooperation between Central Asian countries fosters regional security and economic development," he added.

The three-day conference on "Afghanistan's Regional Economic Cooperation: Central Asia, Iran and Pakistan", supported by the UNDP in Bishkek and Kabul, opened on 10 May, bringing together senior government officials and private sectors representatives from across the region.

Participants focused on efforts that countries in the region could undertake to reduce trade barriers, improve transport infrastructure and streamline border bottlenecks. They signed a Bishkek Declaration in which they "believe strongly that economic cooperation among Afghanistan's neighbours will accelerate Afghanistan's recovery, bring stability to the region, and provide a basis for the pursuit of common economic interests across the region."

The Declaration also urged "donor states, international financial institutions and humanitarian organizations to build Afghanistan's capacity to sustain its revival." It underlined the role of the private sector in expanding economic cooperation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, and called for support of this sector through the establishment of an export and investment guarantee fund by donor countries to Afghanistan.

"We plan to support the government of Afghanistan in reforms and reconstruction of the country meant to create peaceful and democratic Afghanistan," said Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev.

On security concerns that Central Asian countries have over trade with Afghanistan, Murat said that, without trade and investment, security matters would not be resolved. When the economy revives, security also improves, he pointed out. "It is a kind of circle, one depends on another," he said.

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."

Kyrgyz Vice Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev said that "the inclusion of Afghanistan into the [realm of] economic development would positively impact on the investment attractiveness of the whole region."

Otorbaev noted that Kyrgyzstan had mutual interests in energy supplies to northern Afghanistan, education assistance and infrastructure building. He explained that Afghanistan curently takes 10 percent of Kyrgyzstan's exports and that there is much potential for growth. "We could educate hundreds, even thousands of Afghan students in Kyrgyzstan," he stated.

"Our intention is to explore new opportunities for bilateral and multilateral cooperation," said Jerzy Skuratowicz, UNDP resident representative in Kyrgyzstan. "It is not only Afghanistan that can benefit from this discussion. It is an important event for each and every country here. The aim is to harness the dynamics of each particular economy for the benefit of the whole region."

Despite weak governmental control outside the capital Kabul, Afghanistan's finance minister, Dr Ashraf Ghani, assured IRIN that Afghanistan is a secure place to trade with. "Security is not so significant an issue now... We are fast changing our policy to provide security for our neighbours to trade with us. Currently the national army numbers 10,000. In the near future it will reach 18,000," Ashraf Ghani said.

UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said the trade tariff policy of Central Asian countries remained a big hurdle, creating a barrier for further regional economic integration. He noted that Afghanistan already had the lowest tariff regime in the region.

In his closing remarks, Ashraf Ghani said: "We have taken a first step towards a desirable trade policy. Afghanistan for decades was associated with extremism and terrorism. At the conference, the new Afghanistan was presented with new economic options to choose from. Initiatives from this event are not overnight actions. We must be patient and coherent in accomplishing these initiatives. The Berlin conference of Afghanistan provided US $8.5 billion of cash commitments. This conference could provide billions of dollars for regional countries from trade and investment".

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 5/13/04 ... --

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