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Afghanistan, Pakistan Seek to Increase Bilateral Trade

Officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan held talks Tuesday on an agreement that would boost bilateral commerce and lower the cost of trading items between the neighboring countries.

A Pakistani delegation led by Trade Minister Khurrum Dastagir visited Kabul for the negotiations.

Pakistan's Minister of State for Education and Narcotics Control, Muhammad Balighur Rehman, told parliament that Pakistani officials shared a draft of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with their Afghan counterparts. He said both countries were also establishing a joint business council.

Ikram Hoti, an Islamabad-based expert on Afghan-Pakistani economic issues, told VOA's Deewa Radio that trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan generally incurred high transportation costs and that the proposed agreement would reduce the cost of the traded goods.

He said fruits were one of Afghanistan's most exported items, noting the agreement would give Afghan traders the opportunity to explore other Pakistani markets.

Last year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to double annual trade with Pakistan to $5 billion.

Separately, Alyssa Ayres, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state and now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Deewa that India needed to play a greater role in Afghan civilian security in the coming years, as the war-torn nation underwent a critical rebuilding phase.

"The international approach to Afghanistan is to also promote the integration of Afghanistan across the region in better economic, communication and transportation kinds of activities," Ayres said. She noted that for Afghanistan, this is also a means to "integrate itself [into] all regional diplomatic forums," said Ayres.

According to Afghan officials, India holds a very important position in Afghan foreign policy especially in terms of an economic partnership.

"We want India to help us in different fields, especially investment in Afghanistan's economy," Afghan presidential spokesman Ajmal Obaid Abidi told Deewa.

Afghan Trade Minister Muzamal Shinwari said Kabul is seeking more opportunities to trade with India by transiting goods through Pakistan.