Tuesday October 26, 2021

US says aid can flow into Taliban country

The Taliban seized control of the country last month as foreign forces allied with the US withdrew from Afghanistan after a 20-year war.

September 26, 2021

WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD: The US Treasury Department Friday said it had issued two general licences, one allowing the US government, NGOs and certain international organisations, including the United Nations, to engage in transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network – both under sanctions – that are necessary to provide humanitarian assistance.

The second licence authorises certain transactions related to the export and re-export of food, medicine and other items.

“Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support their basic human needs,” Andrea Gacki, director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement, reports the international media.

She added that Washington will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organisations to ease the flow of agricultural goods, medicine and other resources while upholding sanctions on the Taliban, Haqqani Network and others.

The Taliban seized control of the country last month as foreign forces allied with the US withdrew from Afghanistan after a 20-year war.

The events culminated in the capture of the capital, Kabul, on August 15, two decades after the Taliban was driven from power by a US-led campaign following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The United Nations said that at the start of the year more than 18 million people – about half of Afghanistan’s population – require aid amid the country’s second drought in four years.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Afghanistan was on “the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster” and had decided to engage with the Taliban in order to help the country’s people.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is committed to allowing humanitarian work in Afghanistan to continue, despite Washington listing the Taliban as a specially designated global “terrorist” group.

The sanctions freeze any assets the Taliban have in the US and bar Americans from dealing with the group, including the contribution of funds, goods or services.

Friday’s move expands on that specific licence, allowing international organisations and NGOs to pay taxes, fees, import duties or permits, licences or other necessary transactions for assistance to reach the people of Afghanistan.

The licences allow NGOs and foreign financial institutions to continue humanitarian assistance such as the delivery of food, shelter, medicine and medical services, including COVID-19 assistance, a Treasury spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed in principle to incentivize bilateral trade in a big way where both sides will impose zero duty/taxes on all major items of imports and exports, The News has learnt.

Prior to the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Pakistan and Afghanistan were discussing Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) but now it seems both sides will be heading towards an agreement on PTA that might ultimately turn into Free Trade Agreement (FTA) after lapse of a few months in the second phase.

Currently, both the countries have extended the Transit Trade Agreement for a few months on a temporary basis.

In the first step towards accelerating bilateral trade, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has issued a formal notification abolishing 17 percent GST on import of fresh fruits from Afghanistan except on import of apples.

This step has been taken to discourage trade with India and shift it towards Pakistan, a businessman dealing with the Afghan trade said.

He said the apple was not produced in Afghanistan but it was brought from Iran into Afghanistan so tax incentive was not provided on import of apple.

In order to protect local apple farmers from Balochistan, KP and other parts, the import from Afghanistan will continue to be charged with 17 percent GST.

The Pakistani side has made a formal request to the Afghan side to reciprocate with similar duty/taxes incentives on major exports items and also provide road access to other Central Asian Republics (CARs).

“We are waiting for their response and a formal go-ahead is expected within the next two weeks,” said the official.

Top official sources told this reporter that zero duty/taxes would be imposed on all major items of exports/imports except those few items where domestic farmers or industries would require protection.

“On the directives of the Prime Minister Office, the Ministry of Commerce and FBR are finalizing a proposal to grant duty/tax incentives in order to boost up bilateral trade,” top official sources confirmed while talking to The News Saturday.

The Pakistani side has sought similar incentives on reciprocal basis where Kabul will also charge zero duty/taxes on products being exported to Afghanistan.

Pak-Afghan current trade stands at around $1.5 billion and both sides are expecting that the duty/tax incentives could double bilateral trade with immediate effect.

With promulgation of the Presidential Ordinance for Tax Laws (Third Amendments) Ordinance 2021, the FBR officers deputed at Torkham, Chaman, Ghulam Khan and Angoor Ada have started charging 17 percent GST on import of fresh fruits.

It resulted into blocking of 400 to 500 trucks of fresh fruits such as grapes, apples, peach, pears, pomegranate and others and such perishable fruits were bound to become rotten within days.

A notification issued by the FBR on September 24, 2021 stated that the Board had issued directions to Collector Peshawar and Quetta for charging zero GST on import of fresh fruits from Afghanistan except apple.

It stated that it was directed to refer to Tax Laws (Third Amendment) Ordinance 2021 dated 15-9-2021 on the cited subject and to say that sales tax has become leviable in terms of S.No.15 of Table-1 of Sixth Schedule to Sales Tax Act 1990 on import of fresh fruits from Afghanistan. However, in pursuance to a representation of Sarhad Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the issue has been reviewed and consequently sales tax shall not be collected on fresh fruits imported (except apples PCT 0808.1000) from Afghanistan.

The top official said the FBR would continue charging 17 percent GST on import of apple from Afghanistan because the domestic producers of apples had to face a lot of difficulties selling their produce in the domestic market.

In order to protect the local farmers, the FBR will continue charging 17 percent GST on import of apple from Afghanistan.

According to a statement issued by the FBR on Saturday night, Chairman Federal Board of Revenue Dr. Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmad accompanied by Syed Tariq Huda Member (Customs Operations) and Member (Customs Policy) Saeed Jadoon Saturday visited the Torkham Border and reviewed the pace and quality of services being provided by Pakistan Customs to facilitate trade between the two neighbours.

Immediately after his arrival, he ensured clearance of about 1400 truckloads of fruit from Afghanistan.

Earlier, Dr. Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmad held an important meeting with traders from both sides and assured them of every possible assistance by the FBR for smooth and easy flow of bilateral trade.