U.S., Central Asian countries agree to focus on digital trade issues

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior trade officials from the United States met on Tuesday with their counterparts from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on a range of trade issues, underscoring their desire to strengthen trade ties among countries in the region, and with the United States.

Participants in the meeting of the U.S.-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) also discussed the importance of digital trade for achieving broad-based inclusive economic growth and innovation, they said in a joint statement.

The officials agreed to focus on ensuring the free flow of information across borders, transparency, competition, and non-discrimination, and to include women, small and medium enterprises and other stakeholders, in shaping new policies.

They affirmed the TIFA as a "valuable mechanism" to strengthen trade and investment ties, and agreed to meet in Central Asia for the next meeting in 2022.

They welcomed the participation of Afghanistan and Pakistan as observers in the meeting, underscoring the importance of regional connectivity to boosting growth and stability, and strengthening trade between Central Asia and South Asia.

They also appreciated Afghanistan and Pakistan’s interest in renegotiating the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), a bilateral trade agreement signed in 2010.

One key topic was the lapse of duty-free treatment under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a trade waiver program that expired at the end of last year.

U.S. officials explained key themes of the Biden administration’s trade policy, including with respect to labor, environment and climate concerns, and the equitable distribution of the benefits of trade to underserved communities.

Digital trade was a big topic, and the participants agreed to set up a separate, additional working group on the issue.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Marguerita Choy)