Lanka yet to tap huge opportunities from Afghanistan | Daily News

Lanka yet to tap huge opportunities from Afghanistan

Afghanistan is very keen to have more trade links with both the Sri Lanka Government and the private sector, said Afghanistan Ambassador to Sri Lanka, M. Ashraf Haidari.

In a special interview with the Daily News Business, he said they are even keen to ink a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka. “This would be Afghanistan’s first ever FTA with any country exposing our economic potential to the world.”

He said that Afghanistan has been maintaining diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka for a long period, but trade is at a very low ebb. “The total bilateral trade is certainly less than US$ 250,000, but this number could be increased by 100% soon.”

Afghanistan Ambassador to Sri Lanka, M. Ashraf Haidari.
Pictures by Saliya Rupasinghe.

Sri Lankan exporters have not looked at Afghanistan seriously and have certainly under played our potential. “Look at the Sri Lankan tea exports which is not coming directly to Afghanistan. At an average, an Afghan consumes around 15 cups of tea per day and Sri Lanka Tea should directly enter this market. This market is now dominated by India, China and Vietnam.”

He identified medical tourism and education as two major areas that should be promoted. “Many Afghans travel to India seeking medical treatment. More than $300 million annually flows out of Afghanistan in pursuit of medical treatment abroad. At the same time, more than $800 million worth of pharmaceuticals is annually imported to Afghanistan.

As Sri Lanka’s private health care sector is much advanced, the local hospitals should make Afghan people aware of Sri Lanka’s medical facilities.”

It is estimated that over 16 planes leave each week to Indian cities with Afghans seeking medical treatment.

In addition, Sri Lankan hospitals should also look at opening in Afghanistan since there is a growing demand for quality private health care.

Similarly, Sri Lankan education institutions too should conduct a Road Show in Kabul to woo Afghan students to Study in Sri Lanka. He also stated that the private sector could also import workers from Afghanistan to work in Sri Lanka.

Afghanistan is a war ravaged country and people are looking towards technology and better services. “Sri Lankan High Tech companies in power generation, engineering, logistics, irrigation and specially agriculture, could easily find partners from Afghanistan for joint ventures and this aspect should be explored by the private sector.”

Afghanistan currently produces 600 million watts of hydro power electricity. “But there is a huge potential to produce up to 23,000 MW of hydro power electricity.”

He said that Afghanistan welcomes foreign investors as it has one of the top Doing Business Index Rankings in Asia.

There are several untapped industries and services that could be initiated by Sri Lankan Companies. More than 90% of consumer goods in Afghanistan are imported from regional countries and beyond. Afghanistan is a landlocked country and products made out of Joint Ventures could be easily marketed to neighboring countries.

Afghanistan is a trade hub that links the Indian subcontinent with Central Asia, the Middle East, and China, regions that include some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its location also needs commenting on Afghanistan exports. Afghan Apples, Grapes, Pomegranate Almonds and Nuts are much sought after in the world and Sri Lanka too should try to import them. Rugs and carpets are one of the largest exports from Afghanistan.

Afghans also travel overseas, while this too is another area that should be looked at and promoted. An air link between Kabul and Colombo with a stop over in Bombay, could be very profitable.

In a bid to promote business, Afghanistan also offers multiple one year Visas for entrepreneurs and also quick one day visas for Sri Lanka tourists who wish to explore their natural beauty and some of the ancient places of interests for Buddhists.

Ashraf Haidari said that one of the gray areas to promote business between the two countries is the lack of a Business Chamber, which should be addressed.

“One Belt, One Road” initiative will bring together the vastly resourceful and yet unconnected regions of Asia and Europe for trade, investment and inter-civilizational cooperation, thereby benefiting Afghanistan as well.

In addition, the five-nation railway project (China–Kyrgyzstan–Tajikistan–Afghanistan–Iran), once completed, the project would bolster the transportation capacity of the involved countries, directly contributing to their national economies through increased regional and global trade and investment. At the same time, it would dramatically reduce the distance for commercial transport between the East (from China to Iran) and the West (toward Western Europe), while helping connect member-countries to the free waters of the Persian Gulf via Iran.

In the past decade, Afghanistan has experienced unprecedented growth in its construction industry. The construction sector has contributed 7–10 per cent to GDP in recent years. According to the U.S. Geographical Survey, Afghanistan possesses minerals worth $1 trillion, whose value the Afghan government estimates at $3 trillion.



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