- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday made an impassioned pitch for outside trade and investment for his country, proclaiming that Afghanistan “is a business place.”

Not only is Afghanistan a good place to do business, he said, but given the globalized world, prosperity in his country will help other countries.

“The prosperity of Afghanistan will eventually mean prosperity in America. The prosperity of Afghanistan is eventually prosperity in Australia. So hurry up and help the contribution to the prosperity of Afghanistan so we all can be prosperous all over the world,” he said.

He played down security problems potentially facing companies interested in investment and cited business-level Internet, phone, computer and hotel facilities. He added that a new five-star hotel is expected to be built soon near the U.S. Embassy.

Speaking to a gathering at George Washington University, Mr. Karzai stressed his country’s desire to sell its products to the outside world, including the United States, and emphasized the benefits of doing business in his country.

The country’s key exports include textiles, fruits and nuts, and marble, said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who also addressed the session.

U.S. companies will be able to make money and will find it easier to do business in Afghanistan than under the Taliban regime and will be able to get their profits out of the country, he said.

Mr. Karzai also stressed the ease of making investments in Afghanistan, citing profits made by such companies as Coca-Cola, cement companies and mobile phone companies.

In the case of mobile phone companies, he said four years ago they were paying $4 million for licenses, but last year Afghanistan sold three licenses to phone companies for $40 million each — a testament, he said, to the profits possible there.

Mr. Karzai inaugurated a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kabul earlier this month, at the time describing the investment as “an important step forward” toward economic growth, self-sufficiency and a better future for Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai said at George Washington University, is geographically placed at the “crossroads” of key world business regions, meaning that road construction, railroads and gas pipelines are areas with great potential, as are minerals, gas, oil and such other areas as housing construction and aviation.

This year, Afghanistan has given out investment licenses worth $1.4 billion, more than double the $650 million handed out last year.

“The sooner you come, the better it is, ” he said.

The United States is committed to Afghanistan’s long-term succession, Mr. Gutierrez told the gathering.

The Bush administration is looking at trade missions to and from Afghanistan as part of U.S. efforts to help the country’s success, he said.

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