Afghanistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia on Wednesday signed a major international trade and transport corridor deal that will connect Afghanistan directly to Europe.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor will begin in Afghanistan’s northern Aqina port in Faryab province and Torghandi in western Herat province and will run through to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.
From there it will cross the Caspian Sea and will link the Azerbaijani capital Baku to Tbilisi and Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti.
It will then connect with Kars in eastern Turkey before linking to Istanbul and Europe.
Wednesday’s agreement was finalized after three years of talks and was signed during the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Signing for Afghanistan was acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani.
Addressing delegates later in the day, Rabbani said the signing of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor Agreement marked a milestone in Afghanistan’s efforts to achieve greater connectivity through improvement and building of infrastructure for increased trade across Eurasia.
The Afghan delegation at the RECCA summit said the signing of the agreement is a new page in trade and transit in the region and for Afghanistan.
“It is a trade and transit agreement between five nations. According to this agreement, Afghanistan can have access to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey,” said Adela Raaz, deputy chairperson of economy at the ministry of foreign affairs.
“We pay particular attention to our participation in the transport route, Lapis Lazuli, initiated by the government of Afghanistan and strongly supported by Turkmenistan,” Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze said at the summit.
“The signing of the agreement will significantly contribute to the development of cooperation between the members of the project in the areas of trade and transport and beyond. We are convinced that an important part of the region’s future lies in new corridors and projects like Lapis Lazuli.”
Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) meanwhile said the Lapis Lazuli Corridor is the nearest and cheapest way to transport Afghanistan and Asian goods to Europe.
According to the ACCI, by using the corridor, Afghanistan’s goods will travel through Turkmenistan, across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, then Georgia, across the Black Sea and through Turkey to the Mediterranean and Europe.
The ACCI Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries said 80 percent of goods to Europe will be done by railway and also across the Caspian and Black sea by ship.
Meanwhile a number of economic affairs analysts said the Lapis Lazuli Corridor has resolved Afghanistan’s dependency on the neighboring countries in terms of transit and transportation.
“Afghanistan will get rid of economic and transit dependency which has always caused suffering,” economic affairs analyst Abdul Wase Haidari said.