While truckloads of agricultural produce from Afghanistan have been seen moving across the Pakistan border, some Afghan fresh fruit exporters are scrambling to secure alternative export routes. This follows a decision by the Taliban to halt Afghanistan’s trade with India.
Since the militant organisation swept into power, thousands of people fled the country while thousands more still crowd the Kabul airport. With the Taliban in power, Afghanistan’s already battered economy grows more fragile; a trend expected to intensify. The Taliban’s decision to halt trade with India, has seen two terminals on the Pakistan border, crucial for trade along land routes, sealed.
Impact too early to determine
Ajay Sahai, director-general and CEO of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) said that it is still too early to make predictions about future developments.
The recent political development in Afghanistan caused major uncertainty in trade and business circles and the organisation says it is monitoring the development closely.
Says Sahai, “It has impacted the flow of trade between the two countries. It is too early to predict what will happen in the future. However, we feel that over a period, stability and predictability in trade will be established.”
India is the biggest export market for Afghanistan’s producers and the country’s Torkham and Chaman border crossings with Pakistan are the land routes used for trade activities from Afghanistan to India.
Afghanistan’s fresh, dried fruit and spice exporters are now looking for the best options to continue trade. Spice exports to India have also been halted, meaning prices are likely to soar for Indian consumers.
Pre-existing trade decline
The Taliban had reportedly promised earlier not to disrupt any trade activity on transit routes and had invited exporters and all Afghans to continue their normal lives and businesses.
In addition, the organisation had also asked other governments to invest in the landlocked country.
What concerns agricultural economist Dr Sifiso Ntombela about the Taliban takeover is that political unrest in Afghanistan is bound to affect the economic stability of the Middle East region.
Ntombela, the National Agricultural Marketing Council’s chief economist reckons, “[This will] subsequently have spill-over effects to South Africa and other countries in the world, given the connectivity of countries because of globalisation.”
When it comes to South African agriculture specifically, there is limited trade between South Africa and Afghanistan, Ntombela points out.
Afghanistan and the Middle East as a region occupy a small share of South Africa’s total fruit export destinations.
“For example, in 2020 South African agriculture exports [to the region] amounted to just US$288 000, consisting mainly of nuts, fruits and processed cereals and animals. However, South African exports to Afghanistan has been declining by an average of 10% per annum in the past four years, indicating [pre-existing] declining trade relations between the two countries,” explains Ntombela.
He adds that South Africa has a wide export network in the Middle East and we should easily be able to find alternative markets.
Cut from the a different cloth?
The Taliban further expressed its desire to have peaceful relations with other countries, although questions remain about whether Afghanistan’s new rulers will succeed in this.
According to South African independent political analyst Theo Venter, the world should trust the Taliban to be the Taliban, “a religious-cultural group with a very strong fundamentalist approach to Islam”.
The Taliban’s dislike of India stems from Islam being the second-largest religion in India and a large percentage of the country’s population identifies as adherents of Islam.
However, the country has benefited from a stable relationship with the civilian Afghan government over the last two decades, providing Afghanistan with development assistance.
The Taliban’s return to power – after the US and other allies rapidly drove the Taliban from power in 2001 – was negotiated by Donald Trump during his term as president, Venter believes. “The Taliban of 20 years ago and the current Taliban is not the same. They may still look the same and still use AK47s, but the world has changed.”
China, he points out, is much more interested in Afghanistan now and Russia also wants some involvement.
“The impact of the US’ involvement will be there to deal with, such as better schooling for girls and females and several other social changes that the Taliban will have to incorporate into their thinking. And they want to show the world they can govern in the 21st Century and not in the Middle Ages.”
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.