The Lapis Lazuli Signing Ceremony
The Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement was signed on November 15, 2017 on the sidelines of RECCA-VII, marking an important milestone in the collective efforts towards deepening connectivity and enhancing trade in the wider RECCA region. Three technical meetings on the Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement were held over the previous two years, with the final one on November 2016 in Baku. The Agreement has been developed with a view to enhance regional economic integration and trade-based connectivity between the countries of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey including through building an integrated transit and transport system among the contracting parties.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor complements other transport corridors in the wider region. It begins from Aqina in northern Faryab province and Torghundi in western Herat (both in Afghanistan), and continues to the port (on the Caspian Sea) of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan; after passing the Caspian Sea, the route continues on to Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and then connects onward to Tblisi, capital of Georgia, as well as the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi; finally, the corridor connects to the cities of Kars and Istanbul, Turkey, at the entrance of Europe.
Lapis Lazuli’s projected impact is considerable not only because most of the needed infrastructure is already in place, but also because most of the investment required will focus on improving policy and governance. The Economic Rate of Return and Net Present Value still need to be established, but with a discount rate applied at 12%, the overall returns are expected to be positive. The Lapis Lazuli Corridor will connect with Turkey’s Middle Corridor Project and will also compliment other regional transport corridors such as the Five Nations Railway Corridor.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor is also geared toward expanding the economic opportunities of citizens in the wide range of countries who will benefit from this new transport corridor. The provision of facilities for transit and simplification of customs procedures constitute two important pillars of cooperation under the agreement. Key priorities under the initiative in the medium to long term include: 1) improving road conditions and transit facilities along major highways; 2) expanding rail links between Afghanistan and Turkey and beyond; 3) improving multi-modal land ports in priority places in each of the five Lapis Lazuli Route countries; and 4) undertaking a Cost-Benefit Analysis on establishing Cross-Border Economic Zones between the countries along the corridor.
The name “Lapis Lazuli” is derived from the historic route that Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli and other semiprecious stones were exported along, over 2,000 years ago, to the Caucasus, Russia, the Balkans, Europe, and North Africa.