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Trade venues and barriers

Afghanistan has the potential to capture South Asian markets but trade barriers imposed by Pakistan are not allowing the Afghan businesspersons to explore new trade venues. The biggest and attractive market for Afghan goods is India but Pakistan barred Afghan trucks from carrying cargo up to the Wagah border. Reacting to the trade hurdle, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries warned Islamabad to permit the Afghan commercial vehicles to pass directly the Wagah crossing; otherwise Kabul would have no other option but to respond in the similar way. As per reports around 500 containers with Afghan goods are stranded in Pakistan. Though, Pakistani authorities vowed to address the issue but it still remains unclear that on what conditions Afghan trucks could access the crossing. Afghan traders need more ease in the restrictions and facilities to cash the South Asian markets. Not only India but Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal are also good markets for Afghan vegetables, fruits, carpets and other products. Without availability of the fertile trade ground the Afghan businessmen could not promote commercial ties with these South Asian nations.

Currently, official trade volume between Afghanistan and Pakistan is about $2 billion while the unofficial trade volume is touching $5 billion. Likewise, Afghan-India trade volume could jump to $3 billion within few years from $600 million if Pakistan eased restrictions over the Afghan trucks. The only neighboring country is Iran which enjoys good trade ties with Afghanistan. The trade value between the two countries has been increased to $5 billion because of more facilities and no or few restrictions. Looking at the overall situation, it is clear that Afghan-India trade could increase in less time but Islamabad is major obstacle in this regard, because Pakistan does not want to see Afghan products replacing the Pak-made commodities. Trade value between India and Pakistan stands at $2.4 billion. Pakistan mostly exports fruits and vegetables. If Afghan trucks were allowed to carry goods to Wagah without any let or hindrance the day is not far when the amount earned by Pakistani products would make way to Afghanistan. It is responsibility of the respective embassies to facilitate the Afghan businesspersons because it is vital for the economic growth and increase in revenues.

Furthermore, rivalries between SAARC members have overshadowed economic prospects. Kabul should play its role to make South Asia free trade zone. Apart from that, the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, signed in 2010, needs a complete overhaul. As relations between Kabul and Islamabad are going towards normalization, therefore it is a better opportunity for the Afghan officials to speak at top of their voice and convince Pakistan to allow Afghan trucks to access Wagah. It is time to turn over a new leaf and make Afghanistan the gateway to the Central and South Asia in real sense.

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