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Central Asia preparing to become a “bridge” linking continents

Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Nursultan Nazarbayev. Photo: Akorda.at

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev paid a state visit to Uzbekistan on September 16. An extensive package of economic documents for $1.2 billion was signed following his meeting with Shavkat Mirziyoyev. On September 17, the two presidents will travel to Ashgabat to attend opening of the 5th Asian Indoor Games. The three Asian leaders are going to discuss not only sports issues there. Experts say, implementation of economic cooperation scenario has been launched in Central Asia.

At Tashkent Airport, Nursultan Nazarbayev was welcomed personally by his Uzbek counterpart, which speaks of special attitude towards the neighbor. Shavkat Mirziyoyev called 2017 a landmark year for development of the Uzbek-Kazakh relations. The two leaders discussed expansion of cooperation and key issues on regional agenda. The presidents signed 10 agreements in the military-and-technical, transport, energy, water management, financial sectors, as well as a document on regional cooperation. The most important agreements were associated with the transport sector and transit tariffs. This issue will be further discussed in Ashgabat. An agreement on junction point of the three Central Asian countries will be signed in Turkmenistan. “It is a landmark event, since it demonstrates both capacity and readiness of the region’s countries to settle independently such uneasy tasks in multilateral format too. Therefore, the Kazakh leader’s ongoing tour of the region should boost the regional cooperation,” says Kazakh political analyst Erlan Karin.

At present, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan pursue integration of these national transport strategies and formation of a single Central Asian transport and transit hub of continental importance. In this light, the three countries will get a real chance to turn that hub into a Trans-continental bridge ensuring economic partnership of Europe, Asia and Pacific, and South Asia. Therefore, the visit by Uzbek and Kazakh leaders to Ashgabat can be linked to previous agreements of the three leaders.

Due to combined efforts of all the countries in the region, Central Asia is turning into a crossroad of transport corridors linking East and West, North and South. Since the beginning of 2017, a high-speed railway communication has been launched between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, air communication between Tashkent and Dushanbe has been restored after 25 years, air flights have been launched between Tashkent and Issyk Kul region of Kyrgyzstan. Besides, M-39 highway has been opened linking Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

According to Uzbek economist Bakhtyer Ergashev, intensification of bilateral relations between the countries in the region will result in configuration of three countries – driving forces of regional cooperation: Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan will be involved in that process gradually, when ready.

In 2016, commodity turnover between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan exceeded $2 billion. In Jan-Aug 2017, the commodity turnover increased by 35% to $921. However, the two countries’ leaders are still not satisfied with the figures. After attending industrial exhibition “Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan: New Phase of Cooperation” timed to Nazarbayev’s visit, the two presidents charged intergovernmental commissions to increase the commodity turnover to $5 billion by 2020.

Experts say the task is quite feasible. Businesspersons of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan signed agreements for a total of $1.2 billion following a business forum, the press office of the State Committee for Investments of Uzbekistan reported. It was the second business forum between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The first one was held during Mirziyoyev’s visit to Astana. Then more than 400 companies participated in the event and 75 commercial contracts and investment agreements for a total of $1 billion were signed.

The major goal of these events is to establish and develop cooperation and ties between companies in various sectors of economy, create joint ventures, develop joint investment projects. One can say, all this is part of the presidential programs of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Reduction of various tax rates was a practical result of this movement. For instance, Tashkent reduced excise tax on Kazakh flour, vegetable oil, beef, lamb, sugar, and fodder, as well as canceled excise tax on pasta.

Noteworthy that Tashkent and Astana are likely to determine hydro-energy policy in the region. Mirziyoyev and Nazarbayev hinted Dushanbe and Bishkek that waters of the trans-boundary rivers in Central Asia are a common heritage of all peoples in the region and that fates of millions, stability and prosperity of the entire region depend on rational and fair consumption of these water resources. The two leaders supported the idea of building new hydropower plants on the given rivers based on a constructive approach and reckoning with the interests of all the countries in the region. Such approach suggests that discussions on construction of the giant Rogun HPP in Tajikistan will gather pace.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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