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In Focus: ECED Central Asia Digest: 14-21 May

By Alexander Vorobiov (@AlexandVorobiov) - translated by Toni Michel (@villageescape)


A number of political and economic initiatives and events defined Central Asia last week: In Astana, delegates from 111 countries assembled for the Global Challenges Summit where it was announced that Kazakhstan would privatise the state’s uranium mining corporation Kazatomprom. In Uzbekistan, President Mirziyoyev’s quite fruitful meeting with US President Donald Trump topped the agenda: the President was able to secure US$5 billion in business contracts in Washington. Meanwhile, the government in Tashkent pledged to continue efforts to improve the business climate. Kyrgyzstan was consumed with domestic politics last week as Parliament supported a proposal to deprive former Presidents of their immunity. Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Tajikistan as well to stimulate trade to the region and Afghanistan. Kabul meanwhile announced that Turkmen customs duties on exports and imports had been lowered. The only negative event of the week was an intrusion of Taliban fighters into Western Afghan provinces where they are now directly threatening the TAPI Pipeline.






Kazatomprom to be Privatised

Kazakhstan will sell at least 25% of the government’s shares in the state corporation Kazatomprom, the global leader in natural uranium mining. The announcement was made by Akhmetjan Esimov, the head of the national welfare fund Samruk Kazyna, at the sidelines of the Global Challenges Summit, an international economic forum held in Astana this past week. He added that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had taken the decision himself in April; Astana will now approach American banks in order to sell the shares at the London or Hong Kong stock exchanges. (Wall Street Journal, 18 May)

Global Challenges Summit Held in Astana

Delegates of 111 countries met in Astana this past week for the Global Challenges summit. Among the participants were former UN General Secretary Ban Ki Mun, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former French President Francois Hollande and the director of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank Jin Liqun. President Nazarbayev opened the economic forum that also served as the venue for the signature of a temporary free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Iran that is to lower or abolish tariffs on a number of goods. (, 19 May)

Population Record in Three Kazakh Cities 

Kazakhstan’s President used the opportunity during the Global Challenges Summit to announce that three Kazakh cities – Astana, Almaty and Shymkent – have more than one million inhabitants today. Should the latter receive the status of a “city with special importance for the Republic”, Kazakhstan would then gain a 17th administrative region. Currently, Shymkent is the capital of the South Kazakhstan Region. (, 18 May)

Nazarbayev Proposes Canal Between Caspian and Black Sea

Kazakhstan has come forward with a proposal to build a “Eurasia” canal to connect the Caspian and Black Seas during a meeting of EEU member states in Sochi. The project could cost US$15 billion and take a decade to build. The canal could shorten the distance for ships between the two seas by 1000km – currently, a maritime connection does exist via the Volga and Don rivers. (RIA Novosti, 14 May)

Opposition Announces “New Kazakhstan” Movement

Kazakhstan’s opposition founded a new movement called “New Kazakhstan” in Almaty last week to “establish a dialogue with the authorities” while categorically ruling out any “radical steps”. The new formation was already floated by opposition activists in April during a meeting with former Kazakh prime minister Akejan Kanegeldinyi in Brussels. Muchtar Ablyazov, an oligarch living abroad, is meanwhile looking very sceptically upon the newly-founded forum. (Azattyk, 17 May)


World Bank Approves US$1Billion for Socio-Economic Projects

Improved energy efficiency, better emergency health care as well as stimulating the fruit and vegetable industries stands in the centre of a US$940 million tranche from the World Bank to Uzbekistan. The bank welcomed the reform dynamic in the country and promised further loans down the road. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev himself had previously also met the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, in Washington. Investments of the institution in Uzbekistan meanwhile amount to US$2.8 billion, mainly in modernisation projects on agriculture, irrigation, infrastructure and education. (Press Service of the World Bank, 17 May)


Billions in Business Contracts Signed During Presidential Visit to Washington

In the course of the Uzbek President’s official trip to the US, Uzbek state and private companies signed over 20 contracts of US$4.8 billion in total – chiefly in the oil and chemicals sectors as well as in energy, pharmaceuticals, health care, agriculture, machinery and civil aviation. US President Trump said that the investment climate was an important factor for doing business. “The Uzbek government is guaranteeing the rights of foreign investors,” Laziaz Kudratov, the First Deputy Head of the State Committee for Investments, said. He added that Tashkent is working on new customs, tax and tariff codes. (Press Service of the President of Uzbekistan, 16 May)

Uzbekistan and US to Cooperate on Military-Technological Matters

Another result of the mentioned summit in Washington was an agreement by the two leaders on military cooperation and the sale of American hardware and equipment to Uzbekistan. Trump also congratulated Mirziyoyev on the success of the international conference on Afghanistan that was held in Tashkent in March. A source in the US administration furthermore said that Washington is hoping for Uzbekistan to be able to make inroads when it comes to peace in Afghanistan, given the deterioration in US-Pakistani relations. (Fergana News, 17 May)

Free Tourist Zone to be Introduced in Uzbekistan

The authorities in Uzbekistan announced on 15 May that a 98.4-hectare free tourist zone is to be founded in Tashkent Region – roughly corresponding to the size of Singapore. The government also foresees the further development of the tourism sector in the region more generally: 162 guest houses have already been founded while the authorities are expecting the number of tourists to the region to rise from 72,000 to 150,000 until 2021. Revenue is projected to rise in parallel, from US$44.6 to US$100 million. (, 15 May)





Phone Call Held Between Kyrgyz and Azeri Leaders

Kyrgyz leader Sooronbay Jeenbekov spoke with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev last week to discuss pertinent questions of the mutual relationship and cooperation in the political, trade and social fields. They agreed upon a number of practical steps to implement previously agreed projects and touched upon the prospects of further developing the relationship. (Press Service of the President of Kyrgyzstan, 18 May)

Ex-Presidents to Lose Their Immunity, Draft Bill Stipulates

Kyrgyz lawmaker supported a motion calling for the preparation of a law that will abolish the legal immunity enjoyed by the country’s former Presidents. If the law takes effect, ex-President Atambayev (2011-17) could be directly concerned. Deputies passed the motion during a session intended to set up an inquiry into an accident in Bishkek’s heating power station, where the measure was proposed to be able to bring about accountability for former national leaders, should the investigation demand it. (, 17 May)



Tajikistan Plans to Establish Full Cotton Processing Cycle by 2025

Tajikistan’s First Deputy Minister for Industry and New Technologies, Chol Chaidar, said duing a discussion of the country’s industrial strategy until 2030 that Dushanbe would establish a full cotton and fibre processing cycle by 2025. He added that the volume is already increasing every year: while Tajikistan used to process only about 3,000 to 5,000 tons per year, the number had already climbed to 17,100 tons while exports of the commodity amounted to more than US$121 million in 2017. (, 17 May)

Tajik Parliament Ratifies Credit Agreement with Kuwaiti Fund

A joint project between Tajikistan and the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development to provide credit for a road construction project that is to connect Kulyab and Kalaikhumb as well as parcels running both from Kulyab to Shuroobod and from Shkev to Kalaikhumb, got the green light from Tajikistan’s parliamentarians last week. Finance Minister Faiziddin Kachorzoda stressed that the credit amounted to US$25.5 million, covering around 20% of the project’s expected cost of US$115.5 million. Construction is to begin this year and should finish in 2022. (TajikTA, 16 May)

Lukashenko Visits Tajikistan

Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Dushanbe this past week; the two sides were able to agree on 15 documents on cooperation in various fields. Joint industrial projects, works in the mining and metallurgical fields as well as in the light and food industries featured prominently. The meeting of the presidents was timed to coincide with the Tajik-Belarussian business forum that was attended by about 400 entrepreneurs. Minsk expects to increase its exports to the Central Asian region and enter Afghanistan. (Mir 24, 15 May)




Taliban Activity Threatens TAPI

Taliban militants attacked the town of Farah in the west of Afghanistan this past week; the town is located in the vicinity of the construction site of the TAPI gas pipeline. The attack on the city was repulsed with the help of the US Air Force. The head of the International Organization for Monitoring Natural Resources said after the attack that the Afghan government is not able to ensure the safety of the gas pipeline. On Monday, 21 May, unknown persons killed five sappers, who were working to clear the area on which the pipeline will be laid. (TOLO News, 20 May)

Turkmenistan Halves Tariffs for Afghanistan

The Turkmen government decided to simplify trade with Kabul last week and lowered customs duties on imports and exports of goods, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan said. "Tariffs were reduced by 50% and in some cases by even more. For example, earlier, if we did not have time to unload the cars in 24 hours, we had to pay $ 300; now these fines were abolished, " a representative of the Afghan company Khan Zhan, Jean Alkosei, said. Turkmenistan serves as a key corridor for the transit of products to the markets of Russia and Turkey. (Chronika Turkmenistana, 15 May)



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