I sincerely welcome you to Afghanistan. Your decision to consider investing in Afghanistan is a good one. I believe return on investment in Afghanistan is greater than in most other parts of the world. There is, in my view, no region in the world with greater untapped economic potential than Central Asia. Profitable investment opportunities abound. From gems to aviation, from marble to manufacturing fans and electric washing machines from saffron to steel, from cashmere to carpets, Afghanistan is open for business. As we continue to make progress on building our infrastructure, and as our large-scale mining and hydrocarbon extraction projects come on stream the prospects will be brighter still.
Afghanistan has always been at the heart of the major internal trading routes between Asia and Europe. Afghanistan is emerging once again as a key hub for trade as the economies of Central and South Asia continue to grow and become increasingly integrated into the global economy.
Our commitment to private sector led growth starts with our Constitution, which enshrines the sanctity of property and the role of the private sector in the economy. We recently amended our Investment Law to make it even friendlier to investors. It allows 100% foreign ownership, easy repatriation of profits, treats foreign investors identically to domestic ones and gives generous tax breaks. Our Company Law gives shareholders comparable rights to those in the US. Our Central Bank Law establishes the independence of the Central Bank and the autonomy of monetary policy. The new Banking Law regulates the operations of the banking system in accordance with the principles of a market economy. We have adopted a very liberal foreign exchange system which allows people to legally bring money to the country and easily take it out again. We have allowed banks to open foreign exchange accounts.
We are streamlining export and import processes and have recently removed taxes on almost all exports. We have signed a transit agreement with Pakistan giving us access to the giant Indian market. Our tariffs are the lowest in the region and our tariff categories simple and few in number. Our tax arrangements which emphasize simplicity and low taxation are attractive. In other words, we have created a highly pro-business investment regime. In some areas, as measured by the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicator, we score very highly. Thus we rank 23 out or 183 countries for establishing a business.
Since 2002 we have built the basic infrastructure – the roads, and electricity – necessary to support a modern economy. The ring road around Afghanistan has been open for a number of years now and is almost completely paved. Critical highways connecting Afghanistan to Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan are completely asphalted. Thousands of kilometers of new highways are under construction such as the North-South corridor, and the West East-Highway. In the last decade, the supply of power has increased by 800%. A new rail link connecting Afghanistan to Uzbekistan’s rail network has been completed.
The macroeconomic results of our efforts have been good with average annual growth of over 10% in the past ten years. Our exports are increasing by an average of 30% per annum, admittedly from a low base. And our move towards a market economy has resulted in the establishment of vibrant, privately owned, telecommunications, aviation, banking, printing and media sectors. Not surprisingly, world famous companies such as Emirates Airlines, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, the American University, the Marriot Group, Serena, Roshan and ING have all invested here.
Of course, our efforts to build a functioning market economy are not complete. Nor are the results happy ones in all regards. We still have to create a more effective court system with the capacity to rapidly enforce contracts, improve our infrastructure and increase access to finance and industrial land. And spread growth more widely. To this end, we have completed our strategy for industrialization whereby we hope to generate almost a million new industrial jobs in six years. As you know, in a globally integrated economy, each nation has to identify niches in the market where they exhibit strong competitiveness. Our analysis has shown that at this juncture investment in the marble, carpet, fruit processing, agri-processing, gemstones and jewellery, and medicinal plants sectors will lead to the production of goods which are competitive in world markets and will have a high probability of success.
This is not pie in the sky talk. These opportunities are real and are being acted on now. Currently nine white cities are being created in Turkmenistan using Afghanistan white marble – perhaps the only source of high quality white marble in the region – and a new $4.5 million processing line for both slabs and tiles has opened in Heart to service this and other markets. We recently raised our estimate of the likely increase in production of marble over the next six years from $450 million to $700-800 million. Should you take advantage of some of the many wonderful opportunities available in Afghanistan, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you success.