Expanding business, building partnerships for the Afghan export industry
By Evelyn Rupert
From dried fruits and saffron to carpets and gemstones, Afghan export industries have advanced significantly over the past two years, strengthening the country’s economy and creating new opportunities in the workforce.
To ensure this progress continues, more than 30 representatives of exporters, business associations, unions and government agencies gathered in Kabul on June 28 for a roundtable focused on sharing lessons learned, remaining challenges and potential solutions in the export sectors. Nearly half of the participants were from women-owned businesses.
The Afghanistan Export Promotion Roundtable was hosted by the Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan and the Afghan Exporters Club, with support and technical assistance from the Creative Associates International.
Creative’s Katy Vickland, Director of the Workforce Development and Youth Practice Area, facilitated the roundtable discussions, which centered on three themes: best practices, challenges and solutions; workforce development and skills training; and past trade shows and upcoming opportunities.
“This roundtable was an invaluable opportunity for stakeholders to identify how they can work together to make sure that Afghans are fully tapped into the growing export markets and high international demand for Afghan goods,” she said. “Through the roundtable series, exporters will be better able to advocate for themselves with relevant government agencies and regulators as well as potential buyers.”
Collaborating to build an industry
Participants at the roundtable stressed the need to maintain the momentum around the export industries and the support of the government, USAID and other international donors that has been growing since Afghanistan joined the World Trade Organization in 2016.
They said the government’s work to build strong partnerships and trade agreements with neighboring countries and facilitate business through efforts like air cargo corridors, one-stop-shops in country’s major airports and more streamlined regulations have helped grow their businesses.
But they also agreed to collaborate in improving infrastructure, export procedures, access to relevant market data and outreach so that export businesses can better market and distribute their products.
In the coming months, the participants plan to work together to address challenges with certification and standards, for example, and create written export procedures that offer easy-to-understand guidance.
The roundtable came on the heels of the closeout of the USAID Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP), which was implemented by Creative over six years. The program strengthened the private sector and the workforce through demand-driven training for mid-level employees in key industries. More than 43,000 Afghans were trained, 36 percent of them women.
Leveraging the Afghan-Indian export market
The roundtable coincides with private sector preparations for an Afghanistan-India trade and investment show to be held in Mumbai September 12-15, 2018. The show will build upon the success of last year’s USAID-supported “Passage to Prosperity” event that brought together more than 250 Indian companies, investors and importers and some 140 Afghan exporters, who reported striking business deals worth more than $200 million.
Ahead of last year’s Passage to Prosperity Afghanistan-India Trade Show, AWDP trained more than 113 Afghan exporters and small- and medium-sized enterprises, or 80 percent of the Afghan participants in the show. The trainings covered key skills and issues, including understanding India’s market, product development, communications and social media, targeting new business and customer relationship management, among other areas.
Participants are eager for more international opportunities like Passage to Prosperity, but also called for more soft skills training so that representatives are better able to market themselves and reach potential partners while navigating cultural differences.
Vickland said the roundtables like this help to ensure that Afghan businesses are better equipped to form partnerships and gain exposure at big trade expos, like the one in India.
“Some participants said this was the first time they had a chance to interact with other exporters in this way to collaborate and coordinate efforts that will benefit all,” she said. “We are looking forward to the discussions to come and hope that these exporters will arrive in Mumbai with the tools they need to continue the progress we’ve seen in the export industry since 2016.”
With reporting from Saber Daneshjoo in Kabul.