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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Afghan pine nuts delivery to China marks start of air cargo links

Worth about $500,000, the cargo sent to Shanghai is the first flight in what both countries' officials hope will allow Afghan companies to expand international trade

Shanghai is the destination for the first air cargo delivery from Afghanistan to China. AFP
Shanghai is the destination for the first air cargo delivery from Afghanistan to China. AFP

An aircraft on Tuesday flew 20 tonnes of pine nuts from Afghanistan to China, officials said, inaugurating their first air cargo link as the landlocked South Asian nation turns to overseas markets to offset its trade deficit.

Worth about $500,000 (Dh1.83 million), the cargo sent to the commercial hub of Shanghai went by the first of what both countries' officials hope will be many flights, allowing Afghan companies to expand international trade.

By improving links with markets abroad, the service aims to boost prospects for the growth of the farming and carpet-making industries, while Afghanistan battles a deadly Taliban insurgency.

As many as 50 Afghan companies have partnered with Chinese ones to export pine nuts for the next three months, said Naseem Malekzai, chairman of the Afghanistan-China Business Council in Kabul.

"It's our first air cargo consignment to Shanghai, but soon we will be sending Afghan products to Beijing and Quanzhou," he added.

Afghanistan's economy is heavily reliant on imports. Imports from China in 2017 stood at $1.09 billion, a commerce ministry official said.

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"Our aim is to change Afghanistan to an exporter country. Pine nuts will be exported to China and to other markets," President Ashraf Ghani said at the launch of the inaugural flight.

The government has given subsidies of $2m to exporters since Afghanistan launched air corridors to various countries, said a senior adviser to Mr Ghani, requesting anonymity.

"Afghan businessmen have achieved more than $10m in profit by exporting their products through air corridors since 2017," he said. "China is a great market for our niche products."

India is by far the biggest destination, taking 87 per cent of exports shipped by air to bypass its arch-rival Pakistan, which limits overland shipment between its neighbours and often engages in border disputes with them.

Since 2017, 153 flights have carried 3,344 tonnes of Afghan fresh fruit, dry fruit, medicinal herbs, asafoetida and saffron to three Indian cities.