KABUL: Afghanistan’s exports to India have doubled since 2016 with the total value of goods traded reaching $460 million last year.
Jan Aqa Naweed, spokesman for the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Investment (ACCI), told Arab News: “In total, in 2019, our exports to the world reached $1 billion and $460 million of it was to India.”
The upward trend had been continuing over the past three years, resulting in India becoming a significant market for Afghan goods, said Mirzaman Popal, head of the ACCI’s exports and promotion branch.
Among the most in-demand products were carpets, precious stones such as rubies, emeralds, and lapis lazulis, along with dry and fresh fruits including pine nuts, figs, melons, pomegranates, herbs, and grapes.
The majority of goods, especially fresh produce, Popal added, had been shipped by air from Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat to New Delhi because “overland it would take more time and produce would lose its quality and taste by the time it arrived at markets.”
Fateh Shah, a 50-year-old dry fruit trader from Kabul, told Arab News: “Afghan fruits are mostly organic, and delicious, which is why most of our exports consist of dry and fresh fruits. Last year, prices for fresh and dry fruits jumped up drastically in local markets because of an increase in their exports.”
Over the years, Herat province, which is one of Afghanistan’s largest regions and located in the southwest of the country, has become renowned nationally and globally for its high-quality products, especially fruits and saffron.
Deputy head of the ACCI, Khan Jan Alokozai, said that many farmers in the southern and southwestern regions had switched from growing poppies to cultivating Afghan saffron, with each kilogram of the “red gold” – considered one of the best in the world – selling for as much as $4,000 in some European markets, in addition to being one of Afghanistan’s major global exports last year.
The country is also famous for its pine nuts, a kilogram of which is worth nearly $50 in local markets.
Alokozai added that while exports to Pakistan, Afghanistan’s traditional and historical trade partner, touched $289 million last year, its exports to global markets had dropped by 60 percent in recent months due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“For example, we could not send our saffron which would lose its quality, taste, and color if kept for a longer time,” he said.
However, Naweed noted that the opening of the Wagah border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan two weeks ago could help increase trade figures.
“It will allow landlocked Afghanistan to increase its exports further to India as Wagah is important for Afghan goods bound for India and similarly for imports of Indian products,” he said.
Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a former spokesman for the Afghan government’s finance and economic ministries and an analyst, told Arab News: “Insecurity, corruption, and strict investment laws have discouraged investors and businessmen in Afghanistan in recent years. If these challenges are removed, the volume of exports will jump up in the future.”