Afghan exporters build strategic partnerships at India trade expo
By Katy Vickland
October 13, 2017
NEW DELHI — More than 100 Afghan exporters–from a wide variety of economic sectors from carpets to spices–met hundreds of potential trade partners at the expo “Passage to Prosperity: The India-Afghanistan Trade & Investment.”
Organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the conference linked small- and medium-sized Afghan companies with larger, international buyers, to advance regional integration and strengthen economic ties between Afghanistan and India.
The “Passage to Prosperity” expo was in large part the result of the strategic push led by Loren Stoddard, USAID Director of Agriculture and Economic Growth, to catalyze inclusive, market-driven economic growth through exports.
Expo organizers said export-driven growth is at the core of the Heart of Asia effort, through which the U.S. government will continue to support Afghan efforts to promote peace and forge stronger connections with its neighbors.
During the first two days of the Sept. 27-30 trade show, Afghan exporters reported making exports deals worth more than $200 million.
Some 80 percent of the companies that participated in the show received training through the USAID-funded Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, which addresses the country’s high unemployment by improving the quality of business and technical areas such as marketing and sales. It is implemented by Creative Associates International.
“The ‘Passage to Prosperity’ expo provided an opportunity for meaningful exchange and collaboration between Afghanistan sellers and Indian buyers,” said Earl Gast, Senior Vice President for Education and Economic Growth for Creative Associates International.
The expo was inspired by the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting held in December 2016 when the Indian Prime Minister Modi and Afghan President Ghani announced ambitious plans to stimulate trade between the two nations.
Gast further noted that the quality and professionalism of the Afghan exporters’ sales presentations had increased significantly from past efforts.
“Exporters demonstrated detailed knowledge of Indian market entrance requirements, and persuasively demonstrated the benefits of sourcing from Afghan suppliers, including high-quality and competitive pricing,” said Gast, who had previously served as USAID’s Mission Director in Afghanistan.
At the event, exporters represented Afghan economic sectors, including: fresh fruit; dried fruit and nuts; spices; processed food; textiles; leather and apparel; marble; gemstones and jewelry; and carpets.
Since 2012, the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program has been providing workforce training and placement services in line with employer needs in Afghanistan.
Afghan exporters who attended the event received training in marketing best practices, understanding Indian markets, documentation and requirements, and preparing a persuasive sales pitch.
David Haines, Chief of Party for the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, said: “Our Afghan producers utilized the ‘Passage to Prosperity’ opportunity very strategically, investing in understanding Indian markets and building long-term trading relationships.”
“We look forward to providing follow-on training to support Afghan exporters to meet their export goals,” he said.
Exploring new collaboration opportunities
The “Passage to Prosperity” expo offered Afghan service providers opportunities to participate in panel discussions on building partnerships across multiple sectors including education, health and energy.
The USAID Higher Education team moderated several sessions, including one on forging institutional partnerships to improve higher education in Afghanistan.
The sessions highlighted Afghanistan’s unmet demand for higher education and opened a dialogue in sharing opportunities for Afghan and Indian institutions to explore new partnerships and share best practices.
Panelist highlighted the Indian higher education system–the third largest in the world in educating 33 million students–which leverages “placement-driven engagement,” an approach in preparing students for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities at the beginning of their education journey.
With more than 63 percent of Afghans under the age of 25, young people in the country need to be equipped to positively influence social and economic conditions in Afghanistan.
Creative’s Earl Gast said the education sector in Afghanistan faces significant hurdles but there’s hope in providing a quality education for the country’s young population.
“Afghanistan’s youth are the future,” said Gast. “Providing essential workforce skills, job opportunities and an education will empower these young people to be a powerful force to lead change in their country.”