The Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) held its 7th annual U.S.-Afghanistan Business Matchmaking Conference in Washington, D.C. on November 13th to 15th. It was held at the Ronald Reagan Building -- International Trade Center with related activities held at the JW Marriott Washington, D.C. Hotel.
Some 350 participants, including businessmen and women, financial organization representatives and government officials, attending from Afghanistan as well as the U.S., registered for the conference. Included were some 50 guests from Afghanistan. In presenting the goals of the Conference, AACC President Don Ritterstated that "With ’transition’ away from vast military spending in Afghanistan, boosting the private sector is the only way to begin filling the economic gap”. Thus, AACC and its sister institutions’ role begins to take center stage at three critical levels: First, boosting U.S. Afghan business connections – Second, informing our respective governments of business realities and opportunities and – Third, building public-private partnerships supporting the private sector and private business”.
The conference focused on ways in which U.S. companies can tap into business opportunities in Afghanistan and the value of partnering with Afghan companies and entrepreneurs. The Agriculture Minster provided an opening Keynote which laid out the top five significant agribusiness opportunities and emphasized the vastly expanded world-class pomegranate crop and the promise of even greater production. Increasing value chain infrastructure, farmer access to agricultural credit and crop information were three key needs across the Ag sector.
The “7th Annual….” marked a distinct forward movement towards the private sector as a major priority for the U.S. government.
Key USG officials described their respective expanded activity. For example, the Commerce Department’s Michelle O’Neill related their Task Force activity in Afghanistan and the U.S. via experienced private sector actors helping to build businesses engaged in Afghanistan.
Eric Postel, a 25-year veteran of international business and leader of USAID’s private sector initiatives spoke of the agency’s increased emphasis on the private sector and its importance to the future of Afghanistan. Mr. Postel welcomed collaboration between USAID’s Economic Growth and Trade (EGAT) program and AACC and sister organizations.
Mr. Jonathan Carpenter, the Senior Economic Advisor to Ambassador Mark Grossman, Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan (SRAP), reinforced this message with his description of the four priorities in SRAP – U.S. government support: new business growth, legal reform, increased economic growth, trade, and expanding help for business, including financial assistance to grow businesses.
Complementing these keynote addresses, expert panels addressed opportunities in agriculture and food processing: telecommunications and information technology:, mining and natural resource development; transportation and logistics; construction and infrastructure; and finally,organizations and institutions supporting the private sector in Afghanistan. These panels, including both private sector and government representatives, addressed the practical experiences of Afghan and foreign businesses and investors, new opportunities for U.S. companies, and the Afghan perspective on commercial opportunities.
Opportunities for private discussions were provided by an evening Welcoming Reception, networking breaks between meetings, business luncheons and a Mix & Mingle Dinner Reception featuring the presentation of the AACC Business of the Year Award to Mr. Ishan Farid Khwaja, an I Group - Ford Motor Company collaboration in Afghanistan.
Highly popular, one-on-one networking discussions were conducted for some two hours in the afternoons where AACC arranged for individual consultations between attendees and panelists and speakers from relevant businesses, trade associations and government agencies.
Several prominent conference participants also moved towards leadership positions on two AACC Working Groups: one on Mining and Natural Resource Development and the other, on Construction and Infrastructure. In the words of AACC Chairman, Sulaiman Lutfi, “These AACC, web-based international bodies of participants from the private sector and government will strive to assist in positive policy-making and investment promotion”.
Finally, AACC announced details of a recently established Northern California Chapter, its first outside of the Washington D.C. area. The organization, based in Fremont, has a 3-month Interim Board with Officers and, as a first initiative, seeks to build relationships with Silicon Valley companies over opportunities in Afghanistan.
Please contact Don Ritter or Sulaiman Lutfi at the AACC office at 703.442.5005 for further information.Overall, conference sponsorship was robust and sponsors were provided with ample opportunity to communicate their interests to the conference audience. AACC is deeply grateful for those sponsors who literally made the conference possible with their generous support.
The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center is the largest building (3.1 million square feet) in Washington, DC, and is owned by the U.S. General Services Administration. As the first and only federal building dedicated to both government and private use, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center has been mandated by Congress to bring together the country’s best public and private resources to create a national forum for the advancement of trade. In addition, the building houses a premier conference and event center, executive office space, ample meeting and event facilities, dining opportunities and coordinates entertainment and programming.
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