Afghanistan’s government has signed a provisional agreement with Russia to import petroleum products and wheat at a discount, according to Taliban officials.
The deal includes the annual purchase of one million tonnes of petrol, one million tonnes of diesel, half a million tonnes of cooking gas and two million tonnes of wheat, Ministry of Commerce and Industry spokesperson Akhundzada Abdul Salam Jawad told dpa news agency on Wednesday.
He said the import process was expected to “start soon” for Afghanistan, which has been plunged into economic crisis after development aid upon which the country relied was cut following the Taliban’s takeover last year.
Haji Nooruddin Azizi, the acting commerce and industry minister, told the Reuters news agency the agreement would run for an unspecified trial period, after which both sides were expected to sign a longer-term deal if they were content with the arrangement.
He declined to give details on pricing or payment methods, but said Russia had agreed to a discount to global markets on goods that would be delivered to Afghanistan by road and rail.
Azizi said his ministry was working to diversify its trading partners and that Russia had offered the Taliban administration a discount compared with average global commodity prices.
There were no immediate comments by Russia’s energy and agriculture ministries.
However, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov confirmed the provisional agreements on the shipment of fuel and grain to Afghanistan.
“There were such agreements, indeed. As far as I understand, they are preliminary; now, the sides must sign specific [agreements] on volumes and range of products,” he told Russian state news agency TASS on Wednesday.
Russia has been hit hard by Western sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine. The unprecedented measures have forced it to push exports to Asian countries – particularly China and India – to support its economy.
Like all other countries, Russia does not officially recognise the Taliban’s government. Moscow, however, hosted leaders of the movement before they returned to power in August 2021 and its embassy is one of only a handful to remain open in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after the hasty withdrawal of United States-led foreign forces.
“The contract was agreed upon last month when the minister of industry and trade visited Russia,” Jawad said of the reported agreement.
The move could help to ease the isolation that has effectively cut it off from the global banking system amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Afghanistan’s banking sector has nearly collapsed after the US froze $7bn of its assets held there.
The billions of dollars in foreign aid that had helped prop up Afghanistan’s economy for 20 years following the US-led invasion of the country has also been vastly reduced, further deepening the crisis. Meanwhile, food production has been affected by a two-year drought.
Taliban officials have maintained that they are looking to strike trade deals with the international community.__Al Jazeera