Afghan families get lifeline as exports to China fatten pockets

Date: 02 Mar 2022

Businesses' budding cross-border ties will be akin to those between 'brothers'

Carpets, saffron and pine nuts are all over Ali Azghar Faiz's Chinese social media outlet. A post on Feb 13 proclaimed, "Valentine's Day is coming, and it's time for gifts! A bottle of Afghan pine nuts plus two grams of saffron, only 180 yuan ($28.50)".

Faiz, who speaks fluent Chinese, is also active in livestreaming selling. He joined an online sales event during the Spring Festival to market Afghan products to Chinese customers and also took part in food expos.

The 28-year-old Afghan businessman, who lives in Shanghai, said he knows that the more products he sells in China, the more people in his home country will be able to put bread on their family table.

"When the American troops retreated, they left a very complicated situation in Afghanistan. Although many people ran away, the majority could not leave. Many don't have income, and they need work that can bring money," he said.

Together with his partners in Afghanistan, Faiz has been importing carpets and other Afghan products into China since he graduated from the University of Science and Technology Beijing in 2019.

Faiz studied civil engineering after learning Chinese because he planned to go back and rebuild the country.

"When I came to China in 2014, there were good times in Afghanistan, and people were rebuilding many things, such as roads and bridges damaged in previous wars," he said. "But later I started to focus on trade and business because people have to first feed their families before concentrating on construction."

What came to Faiz's mind was to sell handmade carpets to the Chinese market. Handicrafts are among Afghanistan's primary industries. Almost every household has someone who can weave carpets, and creating carpet orders means providing jobs that sustain many families.

Faiz himself was taught carpet weaving by his family, starting when he was only 4. "It's a reality because the economy was very bad around 2000, and we all had to do something to support the family," he said.

The young Afghan started his business in Beijing in 2019. But not long after that, the COVID-19 outbreak hit, and he had to close the small carpet shop in the capital's Dahongmen area.

Faiz then heard about the China International Import Expo on the news, which said the huge trade fair would be held in Shanghai despite the pandemic. He decided to try to sell the carpets there. The CIIE has been held annually in Shanghai in the autumn since 2018.

"I brought 20 carpets with me for my first CIIE because I didn't know much about the expo," Faiz recalled from his trip in 2020. "But when I went there, I found it to be an amazing platform, and I had a great experience. Almost all the carpets were sold."

Last year, Faiz moved from Beijing to Shanghai to prepare for the expo. This time, he booked a larger exhibition area, expanding from 9 square meters to 21 square meters, to display 75 carpets.

This time he sold around 40 carpets, and managed to send money back to 400 families in Afghanistan.

"When I received a call from my father at 11 pm on Nov 18, telling me that the workers have received the money, I was so happy," he said.

Faiz registered a company called Biraro, which means "brothers" in one of Afghanistan's main languages, Dari. "We want to make the relationship between China and Afghanistan like brothers," he said.

"I am planning to bring more handicraft products, and I think people in China will love them," he said. "If I import more goods, more families in Afghan will have work and earn money."

In the Greenland Global Commodity Trading Hub, which is a year-round exhibition and sales center for the CIIE, Faiz set up an Afghanistan exhibition zone. It displayed not only carpets, but also some jewelry accessories made from lapis lazuli, a blue gemstone found in abundance in Afghanistan.

After last year's CIIE, Faiz also managed to import some raw pine nuts from his country. He found local partners in Zhejiang province to process and package them for sale.

Direct air-cargo arrangements for the pine nuts trade were initiated by the governments of the two countries in 2018. It saw 3,000 to 5,000 metric tons of Afghan pine nuts exported to China every year, but the trade was briefly interrupted by turmoil in Afghanistan in August, according to Zhao Lijian, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Shipments were resumed on Nov 1, and the first batch of 45 tons arrived in Shanghai and was sold at the fourth CIIE. By the end of January, nearly 1,600 tons of Afghan pine nuts were cleared by Shanghai Customs.

"China is a very practical market, and there is a huge capacity for growth for businesses in China. If your product fits the market, it will grow very fast," Faiz said.

In addition to diversifying his product line, Faiz is also trying out customized services in his carpet business.

"At the last expo, I had the first Chinese customer who bought not my carpet on display, but one he ordered with his own specific design and size," Faiz said.

"It's a very good market for us. Now, two families in Afghanistan are working on this order and it will be here next few months."

Source: China Daily

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