It’s a winter morning at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul, Afghanistan, and an Afghan Rug and Carpet Center trader is standing by a desk while a government employee types hurriedly on a keyboard. A shipment of rugs waits safely in a warehouse nearby. These rugs will be transported by air to be sold in neighboring countries, but first, the trader must get customs clearance for his exports. But he’s not worried: He can obtain all the approvals he needs — from government ministries, agencies, and associations — in this one office. Within an hour, the trader has the necessary paperwork; in just a few days, the rugs will be on their way to market.
Just a year ago, this wasn’t possible. As a landlocked country, Afghanistan historically struggled to expand its market access to other countries in the region and beyond. Land transportation of goods was often plagued by unpredictable trade barriers, poor security, and other costly delays. As technology advanced, air transit emerged as an option with real potential. But for many years, it remained just that: a potential goal.
So, what changed? ATAR piloted an air-cargo incentive program to encourage exporters to ship via air more frequently, and in parallel it created the one-stop shop for exports.
Before the one-stop shop was created, the export process itself needed to change. In 2016, USAID’s Afghanistan Trade and Revenue (ATAR) project, implemented by Chemonics, analyzed the export process and found that traders needed to follow 29 steps to visit different government agencies and get a multitude of required certifications before they could export their goods.