President Ashraf Ghani’s advisor on Central Asian Affairs said after a meeting with Uzbekistan officials that Afghan traders will soon be able to export goods to China via rail once existing problems have been ironed out.
According to Shakir Kargar, he met with Uzbek officials in Termez city on Thursday to discuss the issue.
The railway line from China, that runs through Uzbekistan, was inaugurated in September 2016. At the time only goods from China were being sent to Afghanistan and the railway trucks were returning empty.
However, in about June last year, this ground to a halt. At the time the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) cited lack of infrastructure at Hairatan Port, between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan as one of the key reasons for the Chinese railway company suspending its operations.
Efforts have reportedly been ongoing since then to reinstate the railway operations – and this time in both directions.
According to Kargar, he discussed with Uzbekistan the challenges and the need to use the railway line as an export route for Afghan goods.
“(In 2016) the railway line was opened at the Afghanistan border (with Uzbekistan) from China as a pilot project. This will no longer be a pilot project. It will be a transit route. The railway trucks that used to return empty to China, will soon carry goods (from Afghanistan). But we need to solve problems inside our country and the commerce and industries ministry should solve the problems,” said Kargar.
Meanwhile, Jamshid Khodjaev, Minister of Foreign Trade for Uzbekistan, said his country has taken steps to resolving Afghanistan’s transit problems in Uzbekistan territory.
“This is a big achievement. It takes us one and half months to transport goods from China, but (once the railway line opens) goods will arrive at our border in only 10 days,” said the head of Afghanistan's Railway Authority, Abdul Bari Sediqi said.
Currently Afghan traders import goods from China through Iran’s Bandar Abbas and Pakistan’s Karachi ports.
However, officials have still not given a date as to when the railway line, which runs for 72km inside Afghanistan, from Hairatan port to Mazar-e-Sharif, will be reopened.
This come two weeks after the Ministry of Commerce and Industries said it has solid plans in place to increase trade with China.
“China is a good market for Afghanistan’s saffron, pine nuts and gemstones. China is one of our important partners in the region,” said Musafir Qoqandi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce and Industries at the time.
According to figures released by the ACCI, Afghanistan imports goods worth more than $1 billion annually while the export volume to China is only around $5 million a year.
Meanwhile, in March, Uzbekistan pledged to provide $500 million to part-fund the construction of a 657km railway line from Mazar-e-Sharif to Herat.
The proposed line would be an extension of the existing 72km route from the Uzbek border to Mazar-e-Sharif and it would connect in Herat with a railway line which is currently under construction from Iran.
This in turn would provide a transit route from Central Asia, and potentially China, to Iran and Europe.
The Afghanistan Railway Authority estimates that the new line would cost $1.8 billion.