US eyes trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan

Reuters | Aug 27, 2007

U.S. eyes trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Bush administration will push Congress in coming months to approve legislation aimed at reducing the threat of violence from "very troubled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan" by creating new job opportunities, a top U.S. trade official said on Monday.

"We are hopeful that legislation will be both introduced and passed relatively quickly," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia said in an interview.

Pakistan’s currently embattled President Pervez Musharraf pressed U.S. President George W. Bush for legislation creating the "reconstruction opportunity zones" in Afghanistan and Pakistan when the two leaders met in March 2006.

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, is under domestic pressure to step down as Pakistan’s army chief as he seeks another term as the country’s president.

Although Pakistan has been an ally in the U.S. "war on terror" since the September 11 attacks on the United States, it is still home to a large number of Islamic militants in the border region it shares with Afghanistan.

U.S. intelligence officials told a House of Representatives committee in July that Al Qaeda had become progressively active in Western Pakistan, where they apparently enjoy safe haven and increased financial support.

The proposed reconstruction opportunity zones are intended to create job opportunities by allowing goods produced in designated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan to enter the United States duty-free.

"There are very troubled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, (such as) the Northwest Frontier. The key to resolving political challenges would be to spur economic development," Bhatia said.

"The hope with these reconstruction zones is by affording goods produced in those zones duty-free and quota-free to the United States, you would be able to spur investment and economic development in those regions," he said.

Potential imports from reconstruction opportunity zones in the two countries could include agricultural goods, clothing, textiles and handicrafts, Bhatia said.

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source: Reuters