First consultative meeting on Lapis Lazuli Corridor held in Kabul
The first consultative meeting on Lapis Lazuli Corridor was held in Kabul to exchange views on the five-pronged agreement among Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
The meeting was attended by representatives from Afghanistan’s ministries of foreign affairs, finance, transport and commerce.
Waheedullah Waisi, Head of Economic Cooperation in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed on the economic benefits of the project and highlighted the progress achieved so far.
The Lapis Lazulli Corridor is a lynchpin in reviving the ancient Silk Road by connecting South Asia to Central Asia and then to Europe, where Afghanistan serves as the connecting bridge.
Its name comes from the fact that Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli and other semiprecious stones were exported through this route to Caucasus, Russia, Europe, the Balkans and Northern Africa over 2,000 years ago. Lapis Lazulli Corridor runs from Aqina in northern Faryab province and Turqundi in western Herat province of Afghanistan to Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan which arrives in Baku, capital city of Azerbaijan, after passing the Caspian Sea. It connects Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and also the ports of Polti and Batumi of Georgia. The Corridor then connects cities of Kors and Istanbul of Turkey and finally ends in Europe.
The Asian Development Bank has allocated USD 130mn for the implementation of the Corridor which further integrates Afghanistan into the region via road and rail. According to a recent study by the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI), transit through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey via road and rail is a viable transit route for trade with the EU, Balkans and Eastern Europe. An initiative of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the proposal for the Corridor received approval from the regional countries in March 2014.
The significance of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor was highlighted by the representatives of the concerned countries in the first technical working group meeting of Lapis Lazuli Corridor held in Turkmenistan on 15 November 2014. The Corridor was termed as a “shortest, less expensive, and secure passage” connecting Caucasus and Central Asia. It seeks to improve and streamline transport infrastructure and customs procedures, increase trade, create employment opportunities and bolster economic ties between the concerned nations benefitting from this trade route. The officials regarded the operationalization of the Corridor as a key factor in reviving the New Silk Road. President Ashraf Ghani also reflected on the importance of the Corridor in connecting Afghanistan with the regional countries in his speech to the American congress in March 2015 and said that Afghanistan has “already made significant headway in making the vision of the of the Lapis Lazuli corridor that will link us to Turkmenistan, Georgia, Turkey and Europe into a reality.”
Furthermore, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor will provide Afghanistan with an alternative trade route. Afghanistan currently relies on its neighboring countries, mainly Pakistan, for the transit of its goods.
Afghanistan’s right of transit through Pakistan was recognized in the Afghanistan- Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) that dates back to 1965. The agreement was superseded by the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) which came into force in June of 2011. As per the agreement, Pakistan will allow Afghan trucks to carry Afghan products to the markets of China, India and other countries through the seaports of Karachi, Qasim and Gwadar Ports.
However, Afghan merchants have time and again complained about the hurdles caused by Pakistani customs in exports of Afghan goods to international markets by blocking the trade routes or hiking shipping freight rate. In January 2015, as many as 2,000 Afghan containers loaded with food and non-food items were stuck at Karachi port for over two weeks due to unjustified raise in freight rates by Pakistani customs. While Pakistan has always promised to be fully committed in helping to successfully implement the APTTA, Afghanistan finds their promises dubious as transit problems on Pakistan’s soil continue to be a major impediment in boosting Afghan exports. Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) sees the Lapis Lazuli Corridor as the best alternative trade route for Afghanistan’s goods to reach the international markets and reduce its reliance on neighboring countries.
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