Afghan port sees hike in trade with Uzbekistan

By Muhammad Qasem

A crane loads Afghan products into containers May 22 in Hairatan port, Afghanistan, on the border with Uzbekistan. [Social media]

A crane loads Afghan products into containers May 22 in Hairatan port, Afghanistan, on the border with Uzbekistan. [Social media]

KUNDUZ PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Imports and exports passing through Hairatan port in Balkh province, Afghanistan, which lies on the border with Uzbekistan, have started to pick up after a 10-month slowdown, Afghan traders and local authorities say.

The news is welcome in Uzbekistan, which has a natural interest in seeing its neighbour prosper.

"The volume of our exports is very good," said Abdul Sattar Rashid, general director of Hairatan port. "We also import daily between 120 and 140 railway cars of various goods, arriving from Uzbekistan."

"Afghan traders export carpets; licorice; natural herbs; dried fruit and nuts such as almonds, pine nuts and raisins; and vegetables," he said. "Imports by Afghanistan include food items such as flour, rice and oil; steel bars and other necessities."

"Afghan traders export four to five truckloads of goods daily across the border for which tariffs are waived," he said. "We are trying to further increase the volume of our exports."

There are no restrictions regarding the daily export and import of commercial goods in Hairatan port, Rashid said.

"We have exported more than 640,000 tonnes of potatoes, onions, licorice, carpets, gelem [a cheaper type of carpet], sesame, flaxseed, cotton and animal skins via Hairatan port [since last August]," said Sher Ahmad Sepahizada, director of the Industrial Parks unit at the Balkh Department of Commerce and Industries.

"Exports via this port have increased by 82% [in recent months]," he said. "We did not have this volume of exports in the past because of war and insecurity."

Revenue also has increased alongside increased trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, according to the Hairatan Border Services Authority, which oversees the loading, unloading and storage of commercial goods.

"The Authority's daily revenue used to be 1 million AFN ($11,000) in previous years, but now it is more than 3 million AFN ($34,000), which is added to the state's coffers," said Authority director Ali Jan Omari.

"Strong control over business transactions, the prevention of corruption and the provision of facilities to large businesses have led to the increase in revenues," he said.

Omari called on the investors and businesses that have left the country to return and invest in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

Optimism among traders

Traders in northern Afghanistan say they are seeing smooth transactions and an increase in the volume of imports and exports via Hairatan.

Business had slowed down in the province over the past year, but the volume of imports and exports via Hairatan has increased lately and traders are provided some facilities, Mohammad Imran Ahmadi, an Afghan trader in Balkh province, said.

Issues pertaining to importing and exporting have been addressed, he said. The only issues left "are the transfer of money and the timely issuance of visas to the traders".

Challenges in issuing visas to Afghan traders have been a serious problem, he said, adding that many traders have suffered heavy losses because they have been forced to make deals in absentia.

"Borders are not open, and residents are facing challenges," he said. "If Afghan traders are issued visas, borders are opened and timely exports are facilitated, then the country's economy will improve."

"Compared to the past, there are more facilities available to the traders and they do not incur extra expenses," said Mahmood Ramin, a trader in Hairatan.

"Providing more facilities to traders will lead to an increase of commodities such as food, gas and petroleum in the markets," he said.

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Boosting the economy and strengthening unions are critical for the region and for normal neighbourly relations to flourish again.