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Mar 8, 2009
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US lawmakers want easier Afghan, Pakistan imports

Mar 8, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday to allow duty-free import of goods made in special zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan in an effort to combat extremism there through investment and job creation.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Security And Prosperity Enhancement Act foresees so-called "Reconstruction Opportunity Zones" in the two countries, that are at the hub of the U.S. war against terrorism, its sponsors said.

"This is an initiative that has been fully embraced by the new administration on an urgent basis," said Democratic Representative Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

"This is a fight that we all need to take on," he said, flanked by Republican lawmakers, an Obama administration official and the ambassadors of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The bipartisan bill takes up a Bush administration proposal from 2006 that never was acted on by the previous Congress. Van Hollen said he expected both the House of Representatives and the Senate to move quickly to pass it.

The zones across Afghanistan and in Pakistan's border and tribal areas where Taliban and al Qaeda militants have taken sanctuary would produce clothing, textiles and handicrafts for export to the United States duty-free and quota-free.

The Obama administration has redoubled U.S. efforts in the Afghan war amid a resurgence of the hard-line Islamist Taliban, appointing a special envoy to the region and announcing plans to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing U.S. forces there to 55,000 by this summer.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by David Storey)

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