By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - Uncertainty over Afghanistan's bitterly contested presidential election has helped drive a 20 percent drop in exports this year but Afghan trade officials say they expect revenue to rebound once a deadlock between rivals is resolved.
"As soon as the final results of the elections are announced there will be a 30 to 40 percent increase in exports and imports and we are sure about that," the director of Afghanistan's Industry and Export Promotion Department, Mir Zaman Popal said.
Two months have passed since the second round was held but a winner has yet to emerge over accusations of mass fraud and rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have each claimed victory.
The outcome has confirmed the worst fears of business leaders and other officials, who long feared a standoff between the rivals supported by different ethnic groups and powerbrokers would raise the specter of civil war.
Import data was still being finalised, Popal continued, but his department expected a similar, 26 percent decline from almost $3 billion in 2013.
Separate data from the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) provided to Reuters showed a steep drop in grain exports, along with carpets and animal products, all contributed to a decline in exports in the April-June period.
The spread of extortion along Afghanistan's main highways had contributed to the general downturn in trade, but Popal hoped security would improve once a new government was in place. Management practices at the Ministry of Finance were also in need of long-promised reform to give trade a boost, he said.
A full, unprecedented audit of all eight million votes cast is underway under U.N. supervision and a powersharing deal has been negotiated by Western officials in an effort to defuse the crisis which has prompted businesses to hold off investment.
"Our politicians’ speeches are provocative and future of this country is uncertain. It is safer for businessmen to take their money out of the country instead of investing it in a risky situation,” ACCI deputy chairman, Khan Jan Alokozai, told Reuters.
Exports fell to $99.5 million in the first three months of the Afghan calendar year, which starts in April, from $129 million in 2013, according to the ACCI data.
While the stop-start audit of votes has resumed, details of the deal brokered during U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's last visit remain hazy however and many Afghans continue to fear violence may erupt along ethnic lines.
(Writing by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Jessica Donati and Toby Chopra)