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Following this line of reasoning this reseai»h investigated re-sourcing possibilities for Afghanistan of specific imports with actual or potential adveise public health impact to Central Asian countries. The next section presents what is known about the selected products based on the available data supplemented with additional findings based on interviews with key informants.

Findings on Selected Products

Worldbank / UNCTAD TRAINS datasets are used in this section because they provide the disaggregated level of 4-6 digit HS code.


Officially, pharmaceuticals are imported mainly from Pakistan Iran, and China with some limited quantities from India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and European conntiies. The sunrey of importers in Kabul showed, however, that India, Pakistan, China, Germany, and Iran are the key trade partners in this area (Table 2, above]. Importers ai» all private sector concerns and make their own arrangements with the suppliers. Key informant interviews revealed that there were also smuggled imports of substandaid pharmaceuticaJs h orn mainly Pakistan, China, and Iran.»1 Key informants made references to factories producing both good and substandard quality medicine, or using mixes of good and substandard quality ingredients in compounded medicine. Spoilage due to inappropriate storage was also mentioned as another reason for lowT quality supply in the Afghan market

Iran Ii’d S Pakistan Netherlands China

Figure 3: Largest Source Countries for Pharmaceutical (HS — 3003/4) Imports (in million $ US)

Source: World Bank j UNCTAD TRAINS


The main reasons for importing from Pakistan and Iran are comparatively lower transportation costs, the existence of social networks, and language. One pharmaceuticals importer reported that he and his fellow traders had been to pharmaceuticals trade fairs in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan and had positive impression of the quality. However, the key deterrent to importing from Central Asian countries was the labeling of the pharmaceuticals in Russian and not in a language accessible to the consumers (or the traders). As one trader put it,

…we went to some of their [trade] exhibitions, especially in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. They don’t have many factories that produce medicine. They import most of the medicine from Russia. The problem is that the labels of the medicine were in Russian, but English is the foreign language that we are familiar with….

Another trader complained that the problem with pharmaceuticals in the Afghan market was not so much with the medicines as with bad doctors. There are recurring reports of wrongly prescribed medicine by poorly trained or unqualified Afghan doctors. Also, because of low salaries and prevalent corruption, many doctors would prescribe not based on medicine quality but brand in order to earn commissions. Reportedly there are substandard and/or bad quality antibiotics, contraceptives, and heart and blood pressure drugs, all of which can have serious advei’se health impacts.

Cooking Oil

Official data shows that Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the United Kingdom are the key sources of cooking oil imports into Afghanistan. In contrast, the survey data show that cooking oil is imported mainly from Pakistan with limited quantities from

Iran, Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia (Table 2, above). The imports from Russia and Centi td Asian countries, Indonesia, anti Malaysia have a reputation of being of high quality. Malaysian and Indonesian oil imports are in addition lower costing than other high quality cooking oils.

Figure 4: Largest Source Countries for Sunflower Oil (HS-1512) Imports (in million $ US)33


Source: World Bank / UNCTAD TRAINS

One of the tinders claimed that Pakistani produced oil for the Pakistani market was of the highest quality but not available for sale in the Afghan market Instead, ceitain cooking oil producei’s aie licensed to produce specifically for the Afghan market and are exempt from paying taxes to the Pakistani Government The quality of this latter type of oil is allegedly much lower than the quality of the former. The sub-quality cooking oil is sold in Afghan markets and is popular because it is cheap. The cooking oil imports from all of her coun hies, particularly from Russia, aro said to be of the highest quality:

I have Iranian liquid cooking oil and Russian liquid cooking oil, they don’t freeze in cold weather…. but this kind of oil is expensive …the quality of Russian liquid oil is the best, but it is very expensive.35

There is little or no smuggling of cooking oil into Afghanistan largely because of the high risk of spoiling if shipments .are delayed and not stored properly, The roason for most people buying cheap cooking oil with suspect quality as in vegetable ghee and unrefined cooking oil is poverty and not having sufficient money for basic foodstuffs. The best solution to this problem, one trader suggested, is for Afghanistan to have its own, government regulated, cooking oil production. However, without adequate basic infrastructure such as steady and

a Figure 4 only shows imports of HS IS 12 which includes refined and unrefined sunflower seed oilr cotton seed oil. and safflower oil Sunflower seed oil is one of the most common cooking oils used in Afghanistan and therefore used as ргоку. Other commonly used oils include com-oil, soy-bean oilr rape-seed oil [canola), and palm oil or mixes thereof. Vegetable ghee is also commonly used in cooking, but is not included. u Interview with trader in Kabul February 1Б, 2012»

reliable electricity and a restructured agricultural sector this is not a viable possibility in the immediate future.^


Figure 5: Largest Source Countries for Salt (HS- 2501) Imports (in thousands $ US)


Sounre: World Bank / UNCTAD TRAINS

Data on suit available from official sources is particularly difficult to undei’stand. As Figure 1, above, illustrates it is difficult to establish the supply sources for salt impoits based on the officially available datasets. The survey results show, however, that salt rock is smuggled mostly from Pakistan from a salt mine in Meran Shall (Table 2, above}. Smuggling takes place because of an official restriction oil salt imports into Afghanistan. Salt rock is ground .and packaged in Afghanistan by Afghan producer. Some domestic producers receive financial aid from international aid organizations to ensure that the final product has all the necessary minerals such as iodine.

As Figure 5 suggests, imports ofsalt plummeted in 2 00 8, mainly due to government restiictions on sait imports. Pakistan is the country of choice for smuggled impoits of salt partly due to the existence of social networks, short geographical distance, and low transportation costs. Salt imports from Central Asian countries are associated with higher costs. Some traders have imported high quality and hygienicaUy packaged salt from Russia but the price is higher and consumers seem to show no preference for it. There is some regional variation in teims of sources of packaged salt. In northern Afghanistan people tend to use Afghan salt, in the east and south Pakistani salt, and in the western provinces Iranian sait.

Baby Food

Officially, European countries and Pakistan are the key sources for imported baby food into Afghanistan [Figure 6). The survey shows, however, that baby food is imported mostly frem Pakistan, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Russia, and UAE (Table 2, above].

Figure 6: Largest Source Countries for Prepared Baby Food (190110) Imports (in million $ US) $n.nn

MoPHtestsrandomsainplesof importe d products, includingfoodstuffs, at border entry points. Ministry officials also sample and check packaged consumables and other pre ducts from the vendors in various markets to ensure quality and adherence to public health standards. According to MoPH officials, however, the ministry does not have the infrastructure and sufficient personnel for effective monitoring of all the food products being offered in the market

Petroleum-based Fuels

Petroleum-based fuels are imported through Pakistan and mainly from unknown sources [Figure 7]. Legal and contraband fuel aiso enters Afghanistan from han and the neighboring Centiffi Asian counhies.

Figure 7: Largest Source Countries for Petroleum (HS — 2709/10) Imports (in million $ US)




Pak’stan Kazakhstan Russian Federation Kyngyz Rep и blit Azerbaijan

Source: World Bank / UNCTAD TRAINS

With imports from Central Asia, the problem is not with the original quality of the imported fuel but tampering by some traders to increase the volume by adding used oil and other soluble petroleum-based fuels. This usually causes damage to motorized vehicles and equipment, contributes to air pollution / poisoning, and causes respiratory diseases among the very young and the elderly. Also, some of the fuel importers complained that Central Asian fuel refineries wTould not deal with Afghan importers directly and prefer, instead, to deal with large domestic purchasers who would then sell smaller volumes to Afghan buyers.


Afghanistan is a major importer of salt, cooking oil, baby food, petroleum-based fuels, and medicine. The demand is increasing for cooking oil, baby food, and fuel but is steady for medicine and salt. Pakistan remains the key trading partner with Afghanistan and the source of 15% of baby food imports, 60% of fuel imports, 30% of pharmaceuticals and cooking oik and the sole source for the imports of salt rock (Table 2). Of note in these amounts is fuel, particularly considering that Pakistan is not a producer of fuel and acts only as the transit route for fuel imports into Afghanistan. Pakistan also appears to have a monopoly for salt rock supplies due to proximity and the high quality of its salt rockse

S.Re-sourcing Constraints and Opportunities

All central Asian countries are net importers for the five selected products in the years 20062010, except for petroleum-based fuels of which Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have large reserves (Figure 8). To varying extents, all Central Asian countries export cooking oil, salt, prepared baby food and medicine. The values of the imports for these products into Central Asian countries are much higher, however, suggesting that exports from Central Asian countries of these products are likely to include a significant component of re-exports.19

Cazokh.rtan Export1 Import KyYiyMtan Export Impart Tajikistan Ехроп I Import

TjrkrrensLan Export Impart Uzbekistan Export

Cooking Oil (HS 2512)

Kazakhstan Export Impart

Тогкгпкг (start Export Import Uziwiwten Export import

So Sh> toe Sw jizo

Fuels (HS 2709/10)

КагзкМап Export Import Kyrgyzstan Export Import Tajikistan Export Import

I jrkmcr stan Export \ Impart Uibekrftan Export Import

Baby Food (HS 190110)

KsjnkKtan Export Import iCyrgyatan Export Import Та. tsfan Export Import

TurkmEiLstan Export Impart Uzbrttston Export Import So

So $12$1B$24

Pharmaceuticals (HS 3003/4)

Kazakhstan Export Import Kyrgysta Л Export Impart Та. tostan Export Import lurkmcn stsi Export Import Uzbekistan Export Import

=C S17! ii=C st;= 5 TOO

Salt (2501)

Import a

So so.ra Si.so 52,n Sa.w

Year index

2006 ZOO 7




Figure 8: Total Import / Export (million USD) for Selected Products / Countries (2006-2010)

Source: World Bank / UNCTAD TRAINS database

Central Asian countries continue to have strong trade ties with Russia. Table 4 shows the import and export values of the five selected products for Russia. Russia is a net exporter of petroleum-based fuel products and cooking oil. Russia’s import and export values are more balanced and generally lower than the Central Asian countries, pointing to local production capacity in Russia for the 5 selected products.

The survey asked the respondents about problems they faced at various points of entry to Afghanistan. Figure 9 depicts the main problem categories and the percentage of respondents who reported problems. With the exception of Kabul Airport, all entry points are associated with extremely high levels of corruption, particularly in the cases of Aqina (Turkmenistan border), Spin Boldak (Pakistan border), and Torghandi (Turkmenistan border) where all

In the UNCTAD database there were no records for imports to Turkmenistan for the five selected products*

respondents reported bribes as beinga major problem.*0 Hail titan (Uzbekistanborder},Islam Qala [Iran border), Miran Shall [Pakistan border), and Torkliam (Pakistan border) were also imported by well over 50% of the respondents as having corruption as a major issue. None of the traders interviewed reported importing from Tajikistan though this contradicts evidence of some trading activity between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Table 4: Import / Export of Selected Products for Russia (2006-2010 in 1,000 USD)























Babv Food




































































Source: World Bonk / UNCTAD TRAINS database

Bribes at border entry points are not always monetary and can be taken or offered in kind as a percentage of the merchandize being impelled Hairatan [Uzbekistan border) ranks the highest by the respondents for in kind bribes, followed by Islam Qala (Iran border), and Torkliam [Pakistan border]. The number of respondents associating Haiiatan, Islam Qala, and Torkham with in kind bribes were aiso high, between 5S and 80%, but even more significant given the fact that these three crossing points are the most frequently used by the importers and collectively account for the bulk of all imports into Afghanistan.

Except for Spin Boldak there are significant delays at border entiy points, with Hairatan and Torghandi ranking the highest according to the respondents. Lack of secuiity is

While this finding might suggest that more use should be made by the importers of Kabul Airport due to lower level o f corruption, it lias to be noted that air freight costs tend to be substantially higher than Land transportation, rendering transportation by air as economically unviable for lower value imports.


Except for fuel, competitive pricing was mentioned as a pre-condition to switch import sources particularly for the products with small profit margins such as salt. The unimportance of product quality is confirmed by the finding that the overwhelming majority of importers do not check the quality of the products they import [Figure 11}.

Baby Food Fuel Medicine Cooking Oil Salt

Figure 11: Quality Control Mechanisms

0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%

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