ADB Meeting Paves Way for New Trade Routes Across Afghanistan

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (3 March 2005) - Ministers and representatives of international development agencies meet today for a two-day conference that opens at ADB Headquarters in Manila to boost trade and transport cooperation within and between Central and South Asia.

The Second Ministerial Conference will review progress on the issue in the subregion since the first conference at the end of July 2003 and endorse the establishment of a Central and South Asia Transport and Trade Forum (CSATTF), involving several countries from the subregions.

Delegates will review the status of cross-border infrastructure development and review recommendations on the prevention of human and drug trafficking and money laundering. The conference will also recommend future directions for transport and trade cooperation in the subregions.

The Central and South Asian countries face several constraints in the expansion of trade and acceleration of economic growth. These include customs issues, trade policies, preferential trading arrangements, vehicle standards, visa regulations, and unofficial charges. Transit agreements - bilateral and/or multilateral - are either non-existent or poorly carried out.

"Afghanistan's opening of its borders has provided new opportunities for landlocked countries in Central Asia to take advantage of the transit corridors to access the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf through Iranian and Pakistan ports," says Hyungjung Lee, an ADB Economist.

"Ironing out the barriers to developing these routes will help change trade directions and accelerate Afghanistan's reconstruction as it grows into a major trade hub between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia."

However, link roads and ports and border crossings need to be improved, while management and operation of facilities call for better efficiency. Border security and in-country security issues are also serious. Instability is still part of life in the region. Major concerns are poor governance, as is the drugs trade.

When ADB hosted the first conference on transport and trade in July 2003, all the participating ministers confirmed their interest in subregional economic cooperation by promoting the new transport and trade corridors.

Attending the meeting this week are government ministers from CSATTF countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan is also a member, but not represented this week. Observer delegations will also attend from other countries, including the People's Republic of China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyz Republic.

Besides ADB, participating and observer institutions include UN Conference on Trade and Development, World Bank, Economic Cooperation Organization, European Commission, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.