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Sunday December 05, 2021

US Senate: Bill to establish ROZs in Pak-Afghan border region introduced

May 01, 2021

WASHINGTON: A bipartisan bill to promote lasting peace and generate economic benefits for Pakistan and Afghanistan has been introduced in the US Senate.

The legislation titled Pakistan-Afghanistan Economic Development Act aims to establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan's border regions to allow textile and apparel goods from those areas to enter the US duty-free, ultimately generating economic benefits for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Democrat Senators Van Hollen, Maria Cantwell and Republican Senator Todd Young.

“As American troops leave Afghanistan, we have a strong interest in encouraging all parties to achieve a peaceful settlement and political reconciliation that can bring stability to this war-torn and war-weary area. That means using our influence to facilitate the growth of economic opportunity for those in the region. That’s what our bipartisan bill will do. Through these trade incentives, we can help people in the region see a path to a successful future and build on our larger objectives of promoting political and civil rights especially those of women and girls. This legislation would serve as a vital tool in the Administration’s efforts, and I’ll be working to get it passed,” said Senator Hollen, who raised the Pakistan Afghanistan ROZ proposal earlier this week.

The outlined objectives say that fostering trade with the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region will help bolster economic development and improve the livelihoods of local populations. The effort would further US diplomatic objectives in the region by contributing to political stability and addressing the root causes of violent extremism, as well as expanding trade with Pakistan will strengthen ties with a key strategic partner and enhance economic development in a region important to US interests.

However, the bill also details eligibility criteria according to which both Afghanistan and Pakistan have to fulfil a number of conditions. Besides anti-corruption measures, eliminating barriers to US trade and investment, there must be no activities that harm US national security interests or support for international terrorism. Along with that both countries have to ensure elimination of human rights abuses and protection of core labor standards in order for an area to be designated as a ROZ.

The bill authorises the President of the US to withdraw, suspend, or limit the application of the ROZs if conditions on the ground do not support US national interests. It also allows the president to determine which products, from a specified list of textile and apparel goods, will be eligible for duty-free treatment. These products represent a range of goods commonly imported to the US from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The bill says that the president must determine that Pakistan and Afghanistan have adopted laws to prevent unlawful transshipment and allow US Customs and Border Protection access to investigate allegations of unlawful transshipment. Violating transshipment rules will result in a 5-year denial of duty-free shipment for articles of the violator.