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U.S. has no plans to release billions in Afghan assets: Reuters

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(Last Updated On: September 3, 2021)

The Biden administration has no plans to release billions in Afghan gold, investments and foreign currency reserves parked in the United States that it froze after the Taliban’s takeover, despite pressure from humanitarian groups and others who say the cost may be the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy.

Much of the Afghan central bank’s $10 billion in assets are parked overseas here, where they are considered a key instrument for the West to pressure the Taliban here to respect women’s rights and the rule of law.

Any unfreezing of these assets may be months away, financial experts said.

Officials from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Treasury, White House National Security Council and other agencies have been in regular discussions about Afghanistan’s finances since the Taliban took over in mid-August, ahead of what the United Nations and others see as a looming humanitarian crisis.

Any decision to release the funds would likely involve top U.S. officials from several departments but will ultimately be up to President Joe Biden, the experts said.

Food and fuel prices are soaring across Afghanistan, amid a shortage of cash triggered by a halt in foreign aid, a halt in dollar shipments and a drought.

The U.S. Treasury this week said it had granted a license here authorizing the U.S. government and its partners to continue to facilitate humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. It also gave Western Union, the world’s largest money transfer firm, and other financial institutions a green light to resume processing here personal remittances to Afghanistan from migrants overseas.

The Treasury Department is not easing sanctions on the Taliban or loosening restrictions on their access to the global financial system, a spokesperson told Reuters.

“The United States government has been in touch with humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, both regarding security conditions on the ground and about their ability to continue their humanitarian work,” the spokesperson said.

 “As we maintain our commitment to the Afghan people, we have not reduced sanctions pressure on Taliban leaders or the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system.”

Shah Mehrabi, an economics professor in Maryland and long-time member of the Afghan central bank’s board, a senior Russian official and humanitarian groups are among those urging the U.S. Treasury to also unfreeze the Afghan assets, saying that lives are at stake.

“The gravity of the situation is so immense. Every day that passes is going to result in more suffering and more exodus of people,” Mehrabi said.

The International Monetary Fund has also blocked the Taliban from accessing some $440 million in new emergency reserves, or Special Drawing Rights, issued by the global lender last month.

Adnan Mazarei, former deputy director of the IMF and now a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the United States could not legally release the Afghan assets until there was an internationally recognized government, and that could take many months to occur. The IMF could not act until its board voted, once a government was recognized.

He said a central bank’s reserves are typically not touched except as a last resort. Even Iran, struggling under intense international sanctions, has not used its IMF emergency reserves, he said.

Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury Department official now with the Atlantic Council, said a release of the Afghan assets would not solve Afghanistan’s considerable problems.

“Just releasing those funds doesn’t stabilize the Afghan economy, or do anything like that. What it does is give the Taliban access” to billions of dollars, he said. “I don’t think there’s gonna be a lot of appetite in the U.S. to do that, nor should there be.”

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Acting commerce minister meets Russian deputy PM

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(Last Updated On: May 17, 2024)

Nooruddin Azizi, Acting Minister of Industry and Commerce, met with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk to discuss trade and investment, it was announced on Friday.

Sergey Pavlov, General Director of Russian Railways, and Dmitry Zverev, Deputy Minister of Transport of Russia, were also present in the meeting, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce said in a statement.

According to the statement, the two sides discussed increasing the volume of trade, preferential tariff for Afghan goods, Russian investment in mines and water dams in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s role in the International North–South Transport Corridor.

They also discussed about reducing the cost of transportation through the Russian railway, removing the export tax on basic materials, arranging the trip of the delegation to the ports of Astrakhan and Makhachkala, and holding a trade connectivity conference and an expo of Afghan products in Moscow.

Azizi met with the Russian deputy PM on the sidelines of the Kazan Forum – the 15th International Economic Forum of Russia and the Islamic World.

He also met with representatives of a number of Tatarstan and Russia companies and encouraged them to invest in Afghanistan.

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Azizi meets with head of Tatarstan on sidelines of Kazan Forum

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2024)

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry said Thursday acting minister Nooruddin Azizi met with the leader of Russia’s autonomous republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Nurgaliyevich Minnikhanov, on the sidelines of a meeting in Kazan.

According to the ministry, Azizi met with Minnikhanov on the sidelines of the Kazan Forum – the 15th International Economic Forum of Russia and the Islamic World.

The two officials discussed bilateral trade relations, the establishment of the Russian Trade House in Afghanistan, the visit of Minnikhanov to Kabul, investment in electricity production, water transfer, mining, cultural and economic cooperation and other matters.

This annual meeting is held by Russia and the 14th round of this meeting was also held in the same country last year.

The main goal of the forum is to strengthen trade and economic, scientific and technical, social and cultural ties between Russian regions and the countries of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as to promote the development of the Islamic financial system institutions in Russia.

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Afghanistan’s imports and exports totaled $10.3 billion last year

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2024)

The National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) said on Wednesday that last year, the value of exports totaled $1.79 billion while imports totaled $8.57 billion.

According to NSIA, fruits accounted for the largest share of export items last year, totaling over $645 million.

Medicinal plants, minerals and vegetables were the next top three items respectively to be exported.

Meanwhile, petroleum and oil accounted for the largest portion of imported goods, totaling over $1.37 billion.

Another large portion of the total amount imported went to machinery, vehicles and parts. This totaled over $1.15 billion, followed by textiles, metals and metal products.

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