October 17, 2007 / 8:28 AM / 12 years ago

Regional trade conference underway in Afghanistan

HERAT, Afghanistan, Oct 17 (Reuters) - A regional conference on trade among nations in the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) began on Wednesday in Afghanistan, the first such major gathering to be held for decades in the war-torn country.

Iran, Turkey and Pakistan are the founding members of the organisation, which was set up in 1985 and now includes seven other regional nations, Afghanistan among them.

In addition to investment, transit facilitation and trade, officials from the group are also expected to discuss exploration and export of gas and oil, said an Afghan official.

ECO member Turkmenistan for years has been keen to export its gas to Pakistan and beyond through Afghanistan, but the multi-billion dollar project has been held up due to insecurity in the country.

Afghanistan has been facing a resurgent Taliban-led insurgency.

Lying on the old Silk Road, Afghanistan serves as a bridge between some ECO member countries and has rich copper and iron reserves and some precious stones.

It is also a consumer market for products of some of the regional countries and its annual trade with them reaches to some $4 billion since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, according to Afghan government estimates.

Since the Taliban’s overthrow, the country has not seen any major foreign and local investment, largely due to lack of infrastructure, rampant corruption and the increased insurgency in the past two years.

As part of a move to encourage local traders, the Afghan government recently abolished taxes on exports of goods from the country.

The four-day trade conference is being held in the western city of Herat, regarded as one of the safest areas of the country, which has largely prospered since the removal of the Taliban government.

Security was tight across the city on Wednesday. President Hamid Karzai, who has escaped a series of assassination attempts by suspected Taliban members, is expected to address the conference, Afghan officials said.

In addition to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, the ECO also includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

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