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Afghan business group eyes fruitful talk

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KAI RYSSDAL: The Afghan American Chamber of Commerce met in Washington this week. A quick rundown of the list of invitees gives you some idea of what was on the agenda. Carlos Gutierrez, the Secretary of Commerce, was there, Afghan business leaders, American trade and development officials too. The Chamber's trying to up foreign investment in Afghanistan. They're not having much luck while the shooting's still going on. But they've got some ideas they're working on.

Paul Brandus has more.


PAUL BRANDUS: Could it be that the U.S. strategy for winning the "War on Terror" depends on almonds, apricots and pomegranates?

JIM KUNDER: Right now we think the practical thing is to take the low-hanging fruit, literally and figuratively. Afghan farmers are past masters at growing certain kinds of crops profitably.

That's Jim Kunder of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who's helping Afghan farmers export fruits and nuts. But he acknowledges Afghan farmers are masters at growing another crop too -- poppy. Poppy accounts for a third of Afghanistan's GDP. It's also used to make opium and heroin and helps finance the Taliban's war against the U.S. And that's where the War on Drugs intersects with the War on Terror, says Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.

BILL PIPER: Current U.S. policy towards the poppy fields in Afghanistan, just going in and burning them down and alienating the farmers, is driving a lot of Afghan people into the hands of our enemies.

Why destroy poppy, asks Piper, when it can be used to make legal drugs that are in demand around the world, like Vicodin and Oxycontin? The European parliament agrees. It's proposing to work with the Afghan government to use poppy for legal medicinal uses. That's a strategy it says would also dent the Taliban's financing.

The U.S. government's Kunder says the idea is interesting, but it's not something the administration is considering now. Other countries are getting into the poppy-for-medicine business, notably Turkey and Australia. They're growing it on their own.

In Washington, I'm Paul Brandus for Marketplace.

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