Mar 18, 2008

Reconstruction opportunity zones ENHANCE GLOBAL SECURITY AND PROMOTE AFGHANISTAN’S ECONOMIC development



Reconstruction opportunity zones ENHANCE GLOBAL SECURITY AND PROMOTE AFGHANISTAN’S ECONOMIC development
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Mach 14, legislation was introduced to the U.S. Senate by Senators Maria Cantwell, Orrin Hatch, Kit Bond, Joe Lieberman, and Chuck Hagel that would authorize President George W. Bush to designate Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan (Senate Bill no. 2776). ROZs enable non-trade sensitive exports such as rugs, gemstones and handicrafts from Afghanistan to enter the U.S. duty-free. They will provide a compelling economic incentive for private sector investment and become a major source of employment in Afghanistan. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further review.
“We fully support the Senate ROZ bill introduced last week and encourage members of the U.S. Congress to pass this important piece of legislation that promotes economic opportunity and increased stability in Afghanistan,” said Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States Said T. Jawad. “Improving the lives of ordinary Afghans now suffering from severe poverty will directly impact security concerns in Afghanistan by providing economic alternatives and empowering communities against extremism. We see support for ROZs as a significant sign to the Afghan people that the U.S. pledged commitment to Afghanistan is strong and growing.”
“Our Embassy has been working closely with the U.S. State Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to design the ROZ initiative for the last two years. We urge members of Congress to work together and continue this trajectory by passing the ROZ legislation at this critical time.”

Specific goods will become eligible for duty-free entry into the U.S. if at least 35% of the value of the good comes from the ROZ in Afghanistan or designated areas of Pakistan, a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member-country, or from materials produced in the U.S. The Government of Afghanistan is fully committed to enabling a strong market-based economy, eliminating any remaining barriers to U.S. trade and enforcing the rule of law.

“The U.S. government is assisting us to export our goods duty-free to the largest economy of the world,” said Afghanistan’s Minister of Commerce & Industry Dr. Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang. “ROZs can stimulate economic activity, and attract considerable foreign investment into productive industries. Over time, each ROZ will be an important catalyst for creating local employment, building Afghan skills and technology, and promoting local and regional economic development.”

In a press statement released Friday, co-sponsor Senator Maria Cantwell said, “We hear countless stories about increased violence and a lack of economic development in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Creating ROZs will promote opportunities as alternatives to extremism and narco-trafficking.” Senator Cantwell stressed that America’s national security is connected to the licit opportunities that are available to impoverished Pakistanis and Afghans. “ROZs should become part of a long-term international strategy to promote sustainable economic development in the region,” she said.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Sean McCormack welcomed the legislation, describing the bill as “a strong message of support to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, symbolizing our long-term commitment to the security, peace, and prosperity of the region.”

Afghanistan’s economy has grown exponentially in recent years. The Afghan licit economy has increased from $2.4 billion to nearly $8.8 billion, GDP growth remains in the double-digits, and per capita income has doubled since 2001. However, Afghanistan’s economy experienced a 50% decline in foreign direct investment last year. Despite the security concerns that have deterred some investors from Afghanistan’s perceived high-risk investment environment, many U.S., European, Middle Eastern and Asian corporations and individuals have recognized the potential for high profits in Afghanistan’s virgin market. Major U.S. multinational corporations, such as Coca-Cola, Ford, 3M and Boeing have either set up operations in Afghanistan or are actively examining business opportunities. Over 70 American companies have registered in Afghanistan, representing more than $75 million in potential investment. ROZs have the potential to introduce new opportunities for this community of entrepreneurs to reengage Afghanistan, while allowing them to directly participate in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 17, 2008

CONTACT:
Joshua Gross, Director of Media Relations
Office: (202) 292-4285
Email: gross@embassyofafghanistan.org
Website: www.embassyofafghanistan.org

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