Lapis Lazuli corridor to connect Asia, Europe
BEIJING – Afghanistan has reopened its Lapis Lazuli trade corridor, a part of the ancient Silk Route, which will once again connect the country to Central Asia, Europe and even China through its BRI project, an official of Afghan government said. The new corridor includes roads, railway and maritime routes that run from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia before crossing the Black Sea to Turkey and eventually Europe, Shokrullah Amiri, an official from Afghan government told CGTN Digital in an exclusive interview. “The route begins in Aqina and Turghundi ports in the Afghan provinces of Faryab and Herat, reaches Turkmenbashi port in Turkmenistan, crosses the Caspian Sea and heads to Baku in Azerbaijan and the Georgian capital Tbilisi, reaches Poti and Batumi ports on the Black Sea, and finally crosses via Turkey to Europe,” Amiri elaborated, adding that it took the member countries around three years to discuss and finalize the agreement.
Afghan products including grapes, marbles, and saffron as well as pomegranates of Kandahar, almonds of Samagan, and all agricultural products of the country will soon be transported to partnering countries and Europe via this corridor, he stated.
The corridor will function under the framework of Transport International Routier (TIR) carnet, Amiri informed. The TIR carnet is largely a universal transit system and eases the customs procedures.
Afghanistan became the member of TIR in 1975, however, due to the ongoing instability it was in a dormant stage and renewed its membership in 2013. The implementation of the TIR system in the Lapis Lazuli corridor will augment the trade and transit in Afghanistan and other regional countries.
Amiri stated that as a landlocked country, Afghanistan has mainly relied on Pakistan for its international trade in the light of international conventions and bilateral agreements like the Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) and Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
The Lapis Lazuli corridor would diversify Afghanistan’s transit routes and has been interpreted as the shortest, cheapest, and most reliable route for Afghanistan’s trade with Europe,” he said.
The Lapis Lazuli route agreement was finalized after three years of talks and was signed during the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in November 2017.
According to Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) statistics, Afghanistan’s annual import volume from Europe and Turkey through Iran is 900 million U.S. dollars but the country’s export to European nations totals 6 million U.S. dollars a year.