Afghan call for agri exports access

04/05/2010 | Sid Verma

Afghanistan has called for preferential access to European and US markets to boost its agricultural exports – which would combat the opium trade – ahead of a landmark summit in July

Afghanistan has called for preferential access to European and US markets to boost its agricultural exports – which would combat the opium trade – ahead of a landmark summit in July.

Ashraf Ghani, an Afghan government official and former finance minister, told Emerging Markets in a telephone interview: “We need privileged market access to developed markets in order to develop our agricultural markets.”

Ghani has been appointed to draw up the agenda for the mid-July summit in Kabul at which the international community will assess Afghanistan’s progress on economic and security matters.

“Our partners are key consumers of heroin and have a responsibility to grant us preferential market access for our agricultural products,” Ghani said. “This is what we will push for at the summit.”

Western efforts to eradicate opium-poppy cultivation have failed. Afghan opium poppies supply a heroin market worth an estimated $65 billion annually, that feeds 15 million addicts concentrated in Europe, the US, Russia and Iran, a UN report published in October estimated.

Ghani said alternative products could gain as opposed to opium provided Afghan farmers could be incentivized by stronger export demand. Growth of the rural economy would garner stability in the conflict-ridden nation, Ghani said.

“Boosting the agricultural markets in Afghanistan would be a key driver of economic stability in the country and by natural extension: domestic, regional and global security.”

He said Afghanistan would appeal for new funds in order to finance electricity and infrastructure investment. This would increase the “storage capacity of fruits and vegetables” produced by Afghan farmers and exported to the global market place.

He said saffron is a “viable candidate” to replace opium poppies, but added that Western agricultural expertise was needed to advise on the production, processing and marketing of Afghan agricultural products.

Ghani has been an outspoken critic of President Hamid Karzai’s rule and was a presidential candidate in the disputed election in August 2009. That election, which resulted in Karzai being returned to office amid accusations of fraud, sparked acrimony between the US and the Afghan government. This triggered fresh doubts about the Afghan president’s willingness to serve as an ally of the US in its drive to combat Islamist forces in the country.

But Ghani said: “The US-Afghanistan relationship is back on a solid footing and what’s in the past is in the past.”

He said that for the “first time” since the US’s military intervention in the country following the September 11 2001 attacks, there are “sufficient resources on the ground and a coherent security strategy in place that will realize Afghanistan’s potential,” referring to US’s recent troop surge.

Ghani said the representation of regional partners such as Iran and Pakistan at the July summit was not a prerequisite for its success, but added: “We clearly want our international coalition partners to work with regional powers.”

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