What does Afghanistan export? How much opium export earns the country - and how much the Taliban makes off it

Traditionally Afghanistan exports items like dried fruit, carpets and cereals, however the opium poppy has been described as ‘the country’s largest cash crop’

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As the US continues to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have seized control over the country.

Over the past 15 years, the United States spent more than $8 billion in an effort to deprive the Taliban of the money made off the back of Afghanistan’s opium and heroin trade.

This is what you need to know about Afghanistan’s exports.

What does Afghanistan export?

The Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE) explains that Afghanistan “traditionally exports items of low value, such as dried fruit, carpets, cotton, cereals and non-alcoholic beverages”. It’s main items of import include wheat, peat, textile and petroleum products.

According to a 2018 report from the US Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer, and opium poppy is the country’s largest cash crop, with an estimated annual export value of $1.5 billion to $3 billion in recent years”.

A 2021 report from the United Nations also states: “Member States consistently report that [opium poppy crops] continues to represent the most significant source of income for the Taliban, with one estimate giving it at a total of approximately $460 million during 2020”.

Regarding the current situation going on in Afghanistan, the IOE says that “the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the speed at which Taliban forces have taken over the country poses many questions, not least about the country’s economic future and role as a trade route”.

With the Taliban now in control, the IOE predicts that “international trade will come to a standstill, leading to a surge in smuggling”.

What does Afghanistan export to the UK?

In 2019, Afghanistan exported the following to the UK, according to Trading Economics:

  • Carpets and other textile floor coverings, with a value of $664.48K
  • Edible fruits, nuts, peel of citrus fruits and melons, with a value of $459.54K
  • Wool, animal hair, horsehair yarn and fabric, with a value of $343.11K
  • Raw hides and skins (other than furskins) and leather, with a value of $79.40K
  • Vegetable, fruit, nut food preparations, with a value of $76.03K
  • Special woven or tufted fabric, lace and tapestry, with a value of $27.49K
  • Cocoa and cocoa preparations, with a value of $17.32K
  • Coffee, tea, mate and spices, with a value of $16.68K
  • Cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products, with a value of $15.04K
  • Oil seed, pelagic fruits, grain, seed and fruits, with a value of $4.28K

What does the UK export to Afghanistan?

According to the UK Government, in 2019, the UK exports to Afghanistan amounted to £328 million, and UK exported services worth £248 million in the same year.

Top UK goods exports included:

  • Power generation machinery
  • Electrical and electronic equipment
  • Vehicles 
  • Meat, cereals, fish
  • Opto photo, technical, medical etc apparatus 
  • Pharmaceutical and medical products

Regarding UK to Afghanistan exports, the Government says: “Afghanistan is a challenging export market best suited for companies used to managing risks and handling difficult security environments.

“Corruption is widespread and the bureaucracy is a challenge. Despite this there are some 100 UK companies that either export goods or services and or are based in Afghanistan.

“UK strength is in the provision of services - legal, advisory, security, re-insurance, risk management and consultancy services to key Afghan government ministries often funded by international donors or direct to international donors.

“Amongst European countries the UK is the main trading partner with Afghanistan after Germany who has the lion share when it comes to exporting goods.”