KABUL (TCA) — Afghanistan’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce on August 28 said the Lapis Lazuli Corridor agreement will be implemented within the next two months and will see the first Afghan shipment of goods exported to Europe via the new route, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor agreement was signed by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in November.
The corridor will start at Afghanistan’s northern Aqina port in Faryab province and Torghandi in western Herat province and will run to Turkmenbashi seaport in Turkmenistan. From there it will cross the Caspian Sea and will link the Azerbaijani capital Baku to Tbilisi and Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. It will then connect with Kars in eastern Turkey before linking to Istanbul and Europe.
The inaugural shipment will carry Afghan handicrafts and dry fruit to Europe, said Musafir Qoqandi, spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
“In the next eight to 10 weeks, the first shipment will be sent from Aqina and Torghandi ports and with the arrival of this shipment the operational work will start officially. The five nations will use the corridor for trade with each other and other countries and especially Afghanistan, which is keen to have access to Europe,” said Qoqandi.
However, Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) said the corridor will not be ready for trade within the next two months as the agreement implementation still faces some problems on Afghanistan’s part.
The ACCI deputy head Khan Jan Alokozai said a few multilateral agreements should be signed ahead of the start of trade through the Lapis Lazuli Corridor.
“This is good news, but unfortunately it is not practical. We have lots of problems. First, multilateral customs agreements should be signed between the countries which the corridor crosses,” said Alokozai.
According to ACCI statistics, Afghanistan’s annual import volume from Europe and Turkey through Iran is $900 million but the country’s exports to European nations total $6 million a year.
Alokozai said the Afghan government should not send the first shipment as a pilot shipment, but should take bigger steps and import all goods from Europe and Turkey through this corridor. He said it is much cheaper than through Iran.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor is the shortest and cheapest way to transit Afghanistan’s and Asian countries’ goods to Europe, the ACCI deputy head said.