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Prepared Remarks of Grant D. Aldonas
to the Opening Plenary Session of the
Afghanistan Reconstruction Conference

June 9, 2003

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you. It is my pleasure to join Thelma in welcoming you to the conference. The response to this event has been tremendous, and I want to thank you for your support and contribution to our efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

For more than two decades, despots subjected the Afghan people to war, tyranny, repression, malice and murder. They sacrificed the needs of the many for the will, and namely the will to stay in power, of an elite few. They systematically questioned and then attacked the culture, national identity, and very existence of the Afghan people. And they reminded us that governments that oppress the economic destiny of their people and businesses are certainly the most ruthless in crushing basic human freedoms.

This chapter in Afghanistan's history closed more than a year ago, and we will not allow it to be repeated. Equally important, we will not allow two decades of war and terror to triumph over a population steeped in three millennia of rich history, tradition, culture, and commerce. The people of Afghanistan must and will rise again, and we pledge to help them. The United States and this Administration is not only committed to rebuilding Afghanistan - we are also committed to rebuilding Afghanistan in a manner that encourages peace and stability, commerce and opportunity, freedom and democracy.

We will achieve this by building from the ground up, and each of you can play a role. A physical infrastructure - from health care to education and from energy to transportation - is critical to our rebuilding efforts. It improves living conditions, enables communities to grow, educates children, encourages regional integration and more efficient use of resources, and helps distribute the benefits of commerce and trade across boundaries.

Given this, I want to thank you once again for your presence here. I also want to thank the many representatives of the Afghan government who have come to this conference. I applaud you for facilitating President Karzai's vision to make this year the year of national institution building in Afghanistan and one in which the economic and social benefits of peace will be extended throughout the country.

Reaffirming USG Commitment to Afghanistan
I also want to assure you that the entire U.S. government is dedicating resources specifically to helping you and President Karzai achieve this goal. Our friends at State, OPIC, Treasury, TDA, whose work Thelma outlined earlier, have done tremendous work; as has USAID, which announced just days ago that they will complete the paving of the road from Kabul to Kandahar by the end of the year. This is quite significant because the vast majority of all major roads were destroyed in Afghanistan after two decades of armed conflict, and this is the first to be rebuilt.

At the Department of Commerce and International Trade Administration, we are working towards similar goals. We are participating in an inter-agency, inter-governmental working group that is examining good business practices, commercial banking, and the how to attract investment to Afghanistan. In addition, we have established an Afghanistan Reconstruction Task Force to support all aspects of Afghanistan economic development, as well as aid U.S. export promotion.

Commerce's Afghanistan Task Force
More specifically, the task force has worked with the U.S. business community to gather and disseminate information about the reconstruction efforts. In fact, I would like to direct you to our website, www.export.gov/afghanistan, for some of that information. We have reached out to the Afghan-American community through two summits dedicated to Afghanistan reconstruction and five business roundtables to develop partnering opportunities for U.S. companies. In addition, we have met, and remain in close contact, with the Embassy of Afghanistan.

Last year, our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, Environment and Materials Kevin Murphy led an inter-agency delegation to Kabul to open channels of communication, assess infrastructure needs, and promote a role for the U.S. private sector in reconstruction and development efforts. Upon his return, DAS Murphy conducted briefings for the interagency group and several private sector groups in order to relay commercial intelligence gathered from the trip. We hope to send Kevin back to Afghanistan later this year with a delegation of U.S. businesses seeking to explore market opportunities.

Moving to a More Stable Economic Environment Through Trade
We are proud to support Afghanistan's efforts to return to the world trading system. While there are certainly challenges on the road ahead - last year, Afghanistan's exports were a little more than half those in 1975 - there are also tremendous opportunities. Our role is to encourage these opportunities by promoting a move towards a more stable, transparent, and open trading environment.

These reforms are necessary for nations that seek to fully realize the benefits of trade. To attract and sustain levels of trade and investment, countries must ensure that their domestic infrastructure sufficiently supports free commerce. They must support a political and administrative culture that embraces free market principles such as competition, non-discrimination, and liberalization. And they must enact a strong rule of law, democratic institutions, independent judiciaries, reliable regulatory agencies, dependable law enforcement, and efficient banking and social services.

It is worth noting that these improvements will not only facilitate trade but also advance principles of good governance. Specifically, reforms will encourage transparent regulatory bodies, a sound tax and pensions base, fiscal responsibility, privatization, and improvements in education and health care. And I am pleased to report that the government of Afghanistan is moving in this direction.

I am certain that they will continue to do so in the wake of President Bush's designation of Afghanistan as a beneficiary of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). This followed the reestablishment of normal trade relations with Afghanistan in June of 2002, and it will permit some 5,700 products manufactured and originated in Afghanistan to enter the U.S. duty-free. To aid Afghan exports under this law, we conducted our first training program on the GSP by video conference this spring. U.S. government officials provided information on GSP and other U.S. import policies to the Afghan government and private sector traders.

Eliminating Barriers to Trade and Human Freedom From Within
In closing, I want to highlight our two primary objectives in facilitating trade with Afghanistan. First, it is critical that we set ground rules and habits that enable developing countries to progress economically, not only for themselves but also to facilitate U.S. exports and investment. However, there is also a more philosophical component to our interest in securing a more prosperous Afghanistan.

The President believes - and Secretary Evans and I share that belief - that if you help implement a government that divides the economic interest of the people from those of the government, encourages economic freedom, and eliminates barriers to trade, you are going to see some remarkable changes. You are going to see political pluralism. You are going to see the seeds of free markets. And you are going to see human freedom. Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate in economics, concluded in Development as Freedom - the basis for all economic development is human freedom, including the freedom from any limitation on human potential.

Eliminating barriers to trade at the borders is important, but it is equally important to eliminate barriers to trade and to human freedom within economies as well. And it is important that we set people free - allowing them to create an economic destiny where they can live and succeed and their ideas, innovation, and efforts will be rewarded rather than penalized.

I assure you that this is what we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan. With the help of many of the people in this room, the commitment of the Afghan government, and the continued dedication of people and resources by the U.S. government, I have not doubt that we will achieve this goal.

Thank you.

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