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Cablegate: Agriculture Roundtable with Deputy Secretary Lew and Mail

VZCZCXRO8660
PP RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHSL RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #3049/01 2740302
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 010302Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1769
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 003049

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/RA, AND SCA/A
DEPT FOR AID/ASIA SCAA DRAY
DEPT PASS USTR FOR DELANEY AND DEANGELIS
DASD FOR DSEDNEY
USDA FOR FAS MICHNER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID EAGR ECON SNAR PGOV PINS AF
SUBJECT: AGRICULTURE ROUNDTABLE WITH DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW AND MAIL
MINISTER MOHAMMED ASIF RAHIMI

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) A visiting U.S. Delegation, led by Deputy Secretary Jacob
Lew, met with Minister Mohammed Asif Rahimi of the Ministry of
Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) on September 8 to
discuss the importance of agriculture to the U.S. strategy for
Afghanistan. Embassy Kabul was represented by the Coordinating
Director for Development and Economic Affairs, USAID and USDA.
Minister Rahimi requested urgent and high-level USG support on two
issues of critical importance: 1) crossborder trade barriers; and 2)
MAIL capacity. In response, Embassy Kabul is: a) seeking an early
release of FY10 funding to expedite support for MAIL Capacity
Building--with an interim solution being that USAID will provide $8
million to support this effort--and accelerate the deployment of 5
USDA Ministry Experts and 54 field-based staff; b) helping to
finalize a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA);
c) considering assigning a senior USDA expert to address MAIL
sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPS) issues; e) following up
with MAIL regarding implementation of new activities to support the
GIRoA in the agriculture sector; and f) finalizing revision of the
U.S. agriculture strategy paper. END SUMMARY

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CROSS-BORDER TRADE
------------------

2. (SBU) The Minister outlined the trade flow of Afghan goods
through the region and stated that India remains a large market for
Afghanistan but transit issues at the border with Pakistan have
stemmed the flow of trade. He said continued border and customs
delays are significantly hurting the Afghan farmer by increasing the
cost of doing business and reducing the opportunities to generate
needed income. According to the Minister, while the 1965
Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement allows for the free
flow of Afghan trucks to Pakistan, a recent surge of incidents in
which Afghan trucks are being stopped at the border or allowed into
Pakistan but charged significant additional tariffs, are undermining
trade. He appealed for more senior level USG intervention, noting
that discussions with Pakistan on this issue have made little
headway.

-------------
MAIL CAPACITY
-------------

3. (SBU) Minister Rahimi discussed the general lack of capacity of
MAIL and its staff of over 9,000. He cited the MinistryQs
traditional mindset of a preference for big government, rather than
taking a more market-based approach. The Minister also said the
Ministry lacks adequate equipment, systems, procurement, and
financial management. Likewise, he described how corruption
continues to inhibit progress. In order to combat this, over the
past eight months, the Minister has fired an average of two
employees per week, and has hired an average of ten
merit-based/qualified employees per week. He noted, however, that
progress is limited. The Minister then described MAILQs QChange
ManagementQ program to strengthen the institutional capacity of the
Ministry and requested immediate USG financial support for the
multi-donor program (for which he has hired the Asia Foundation to
manage). The Minister noted that the Dutch were the only donor to
commit funds to date and requested that this program be more highly
prioritized within the USG assistance package.

----------
DISCUSSION
----------

4. (SBU) Deputy Secretary Lew discussed the importance of USG
assistance being an Afghan-led process. On transit, he told
Minister Rahimi the USG engaged the Governments of Pakistan and
India in bilateral conversations. He stated that the USG could
assist with tri-lateral talks if desired but stressed that this not
become a four-way conversation: the Pakistanis and the Afghans need
to engage directly. He supported the MinisterQs assertions
concerning the need to focus on increased capacity building at both
the national and sub-national levels.


KABUL 00003049 002 OF 002


5. (SBU) Acting USAID Administrator Alonzo Fulgham inquired about
the status of meeting sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPS),
in addition to packaging and marketing to facilitate increased
exports. The Minister responded that progress had been limited due
to poor capacity, and immediate assistance from the USG or other
donors is needed due to the serious lack of quality control on
inputs such as fertilizer.

6. (SBU) On food security, the Minister said Afghanistan is near
self-sufficiency in wheat this year, and the GIRoA is building
strategic reserves of 100,000 metric tonnes (MTs). Deputy Secretary
Lew inquired whether MAIL had adequate capacity for storage, and the
Minister responded that while the Government could potentially store
approximately 160,000 MTs, many silos need repair. Several donors
are providing support in this effort, he said.

7. (SBU) The Minister said he looked forward to working together on
implementation of the new USG agriculture strategy. Ambassador
Wayne agreed that further discussion on implementation is needed, in
part to reflect the MinisterQs stated priorities.

----------
NEXT STEPS
----------

8. (SBU) In response to the issues raised, Embassy Kabul is: a)
seeking an early release of FY10 funding to expedite support for
MAIL Capacity Building--with an interim solution being that USAID
will provide $8 million to support this effort--and accelerate the
deployment of 5 USDA Ministry Experts and 54 field-based staff; b)
helping to finalize a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade
Agreement (APTTA); c) considering assigning a senior USDA expert to
address MAIL SPS issues; e) following up with MAIL regarding
implementation of new activities to support the GIRoA in the
agriculture sector; and f) finalizing revision of the Agricultural
Strategy paper.


EIKENBERRY

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