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Central Asian Trade Ministers Look To Boost Ties With U.S.

(RFE/RL) -- Trade ministers from five Central Asia countries and Afghanistan are in Washington this week for talks on expanding trade and investment.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said the United States is drafting a plan for Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to supply more goods and services to operations in Afghanistan as a way of boosting their economies.

In a speech at a conference on October 7 in Washington on U.S. trade with Central Asia, Marantis said the region's logistical support for U.S. and NATO forces is helping to build a stable Afghanistan. But he said more can be done.

Marantis said his office is working with the Department of Defense and other U.S. agencies on a new initiative "aimed at increasing opportunities for the [Central Asian countries] to supply goods and services to U.S. operations."

He said the effort could create new opportunities for investment and job creation in the region, as well as help the United States and its NATO allies attain their security objectives.

The United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with all five Central Asian republics in 2004. The partners meet at annual meetings to find ways of promoting trade and investment between the United States and Central Asia.

Marantis said the Obama administration is strengthening that agreement in two new ways.

First, by adding a mid-year working-group meeting that will follow up on the issues and initiatives raised during the annual meeting. And second, by establishing bilateral channels for dialogue to complement the regional approach.

Senior U.S. Defense Department officials briefed the Central Asian ministers at a TIFA meeting on October 8.

Earlier this week, Kazakhstan's deputy minister for industry and trade, Zhanar Aitzhanova, said her country is committed to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) as part of a free-trade zone with Russia and Belarus.

Speaking to Reuters, Aitzhanova acknowledged that the decision rests with other members of the WTO, especially the European Union and United States.

All three former Soviet republics have been negotiating to join the WTO since the 1990s without success.