The southeastern U.S city of Atlanta recently hosted an exhibition celebrating Afghanistan's world-renowned rugs and the part they have played in shaping the nation's heritage and culture.  Sponsored by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC and the U.S. Department of Commerce, the show was designed to attract buyers and re-energize the product identity, or "brand," that Afghanistan's rugs have developed over centuries.  VOA George Dwyer reports.

It is the most prestigious event of its kind in the United States -- Atlanta's annual International Area Rug Market at the city's AmericasMart Exposition Center

This year the show featured a major exhibit on the rugs of Afghanistan, sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce David Sampson says, "This Afghan rug trade mission is an important part of the Commerce Department's strategy to help develop Afghanistan's private sector and increase trade between the U.S. and Afghanistan and we invited them to showcase their best products at America's premier rug show."

Sampson says the goal of the exhibit organizers is to encourage better commercial relationships between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Trade between the two nations has been seriously weakened by decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan.  Now there is an effort to turn that around. 

"We believe that it is possible to build a very broad-based export-based economy within Afghanistan and the commitment of the United States and certainly the Department of Commerce is long-term to help build this economic recovery."

Those sentiments were echoed by Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States Said Tayeb Jawad. "The possibilities for the expansion of the Afghan rug market into the U.S. is big as you know. Fortunately there is a lot of good will in the United States for Afghanistan, for the Afghan culture.  Most of the Afghan products -- including rugs -- have duty free access to U.S. markets and with your support and assistance we are hopeful to re-establish the share of the Afghan market in the United States once again."

Sharon Kerwick came to Atlanta as a professional appraiser representing potential buyers. She acknowledges there is a lot of work put into production. "This is interesting to me as a collector because it is a particular design I have not seen before and there is a lot of work involved.?

Looking closer she adds, "There are quite a few techniques in this particular piece. The quality is the full range. Afghanistan wools are fine; sometimes you even find a little silk."

The large turnout at this event helped remind visitors here that, for all the turmoil of recent decades, Afghanistan is still among the world's most important producers of handmade ornamental rugs.  Growth in this market sector offers the promise of growth and stability as a whole for a national transitioning into increased participation in the global economy.

Mohammad Amin Farhang is Afghanistan's Minister for Commerce. He says the country is trying to improve. "This is a very important and critical time.  Before, the government has control over all markets and trade.  But now the country is trying to improve its private sector so that people from different areas are encouraged to work together and take this private sector to the next level."

The exhibit also helped to reinforce the fact that Afghanistan's rugs are a vital part of its national identity, and serve as powerful symbols of building on the past to create a better future for the country. 

"President Bush is committed to helping rebuild Afghanistan and achieve great security and prosperity for its people and this exhibit is a down payment on that commitment," Sampson said.

It is also a colorful reminder of the ancient roots of Afghanistan's international trade.