Rebuilding Afghanistan Moving Away from Aid towards Investment

Happenings By Preity Athwal

“Invest in the opportunities Afghanistan can offer you,” says His Excellency Shaida Mohammad Abdali

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) organised a conference, exhibition and B2Bs on ‘Made in Afghanistan’ in collaboration with the Afghanistan Trade and Revenue Project (ATAR) of USAID, Afghanistan and UN Women in coordination with Economic Section, Afghan Embassy in India under the auspices of Trade, Commerce & Investment-Confidence Building Measures of the ‘Heart of Asia’ Process for Rebuilding Afghanistan at Hotel Ashok, New Delhi.

“Afghanistan has a lot of potential and a lot remains unspoilt,” Mr Deepak Amitabh, Chairman, PTC India Limited, said in his welcome remarks. Noting that India is the 2nd largest destination for Afghanistan exports, Mr Amitabh listed sectors such as agriculture, textiles, handicraft, minerals, etc that could further enhance Afghanistan export industry.

Strategically located right between the major seaports in South Asia and the energy-rich Central Asia, Afghanistan can become a major trade transit hub that could connect international trade and markets. The centrally located country has natural access to India and China, two giants of the South Asia region and the ‘Made in Afghanistan’ event offered an opportunity to network with representatives of Afghanistan industry that comprised a high profile 60-70 delegation from various sectors.

Bringing together key participants such as policy makers, thinkers, ministers, senior officials from government, CEOs/managing directors/heads of international department of various private and public sector companies on a common dais, the ‘Made in Afghanistan’ Conference & Exhibition held sessions on trade and investment and how to revitalise agriculture for growth, jobs and food security, and supply chain management in Afghanistan.

H.E. Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan Ambassador to India, thanked India for supporting Afghanistan in ‘rebuilding itself.’ He also lauded the initiative of developing Chabahar port facilities in Afghanistan that could be a ‘game-changer for the entire region!’

Noting that Chabahar port is a fine example of bilateral and multilateral partnership, and how organisations such as SCO and SAARC could further the economic cooperation and integration in the region, he said: “Invest in the opportunities Afghanistan can offer you”. Sectors such as education, infrastructure, healthcare, transport and logistics, trade and commerce, energy, natural resources among others, hold great prospects.

Former Ambassador of India in Kabul and current Secretary ER, MEA, Government of India, Mr Amar Sinha, said, “Historically, Afghanistan has acted as a gateway to India. Currently, biggest stumbling block is the lack of access. We are confident that the Chabahar agreement will change that. We have held three innovation fairs between India and Afghanistan to provide a common platform and generate opportunities, give way for ideas that spark entrepreneurial spirit in the Afghan youth and move away from aid and go towards a trade model.”

It is noteworthy that the first FICCI fair was held in Amar Sinha’s tenure as Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan. “Afghan traders and entrepreneurs come to India and there is a need for a vice versa and I am positive that things are changing,” he added.

V S Sahney, Immediate Past President, SAARC Chamber & Chairman, Sun International said, “We applaud Afghanistan’s metamorphosis in past 10 years and are hopeful that Pakistan will come on board. Afghanistan remains a key transit regional trade point for SAARC multi-sector partnership.”

His Excellency Abdul Qadeer Jawa, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Government of Afghanistan, noted, “This conference has been designed to enable his country's entrepreneurs to connect with their Indian counterparts, especially in agricultural sectors. The expanding export market of Afghanistan is critical to job market. Afghanistan accession as the 164th WTO member in July 2016 will be key for further multilateral opportunities for trade.”

The ministerial session was concluded with vote of thanks by Ms Ambika Sharma, Director General, FICCI after the signing of the MoU between FICCI-FLO with Afghanistan Women Business Federation by Ms Vinta Bimbhet, President, FLO & Director, India Art Investment Co. and Ms Guljan Zimarai, CEO, Afghanistan Women Business Federation. The undeniable reference to Kabuliwala by Rabindranath Tagore reiterated India-Afghanistan cultural ties.

The end of the session was followed by the inauguration of ‘Made in Afghanistan’ Exhibition that included handicraft, fruits/dry fruits, marble, minerals, among others.

The traders hoped to get better promotion of their products in the Indian market and were confident in terms of trade relations between the two nations. "If India hosts more conferences, then it will be very helpful for the businessman and woman of both countries. If India can import more of our products and promote it in their markets, then it will have a great effect on our economy. We hope that both countries will have stronger relations in the future because we have a long history of friendship and will get much more success in future," said Mehmood, a trader from Afghanistan.

The Trade and Investment Opportunities in Afghanistan commenced with a presentation by Sunirmal Ray, Team Leader C2, USAID Afghanistan Trade & Revenue Project, Kabul and Zabihullah Yousufi, Acting Director, Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, followed by an address by Vice President of KEC International - Pankaj Tandon. The presentations touched upon various economy driving sectors of Afghanistan and the opportunities in agriculture, finance banking system, infrastructure, logistics, mining and capacity building.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Afghanistan has tripled in less than a decade, which began from a very low baseline. Currently, India accounts for 36 percent of Afghanistan agriculture export. However, only 9 percent of Afghan population have access to banking system. In Afghanistan, 51 percent of total population are men while 49 percent are women, which makes this country one of the most gender balanced countries in the world. Afghanistan is the largest exporter of grapes, while India is leading as the largest milk producer.

Enterprise activity remains central to the supply chain and private sector involvement in partnership with the government is crucial for the development of Afghanistan.

Another session was held on revitalising agriculture for growth, jobs and food security and supply chain management in Afghanistan with macro and micro approach. The talking points of the session saw Afghanistan as a sparsely populated, gender balanced country with tremendous prospects for the host country and international businesses. It will not only help Afghanistan for moving from aid to investment but also bring together businesses that could turn Afghanistan into a trade hub.

Private sector development and involvement is critical for the development of Afghanistan. The conference and exhibition provided a platform to create avenues for collaboration and joint ventures in various sectors between B2B enterprises and solidify India-Afghan relations in terms of trade, commerce and investment opportunities.

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