British Trade Commissioner: strategic partnership and cooperation agreement to refresh trade with Kazakhstan

LONDON. KAZINFORM – The United Kingdom is Kazakhstan's leading trade and investment partner in Europe. Last year, trade turnover between the countries grew by almost 60%, exceeding $1.8 billion. The UK is also one of the top 10 investors in Kazakhstan, with nearly $16.5 billion of direct investments since 2005. Kenan Poleo, Trade Commissioner for Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region, spoke about the British trade strategy in Central Asia, the prospects for expanding trade and economic cooperation between Astana and London and the UK’s steps to develop the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route in an exclusive interview with Kazinform's correspondent in London.

Could you tell about the UK's trade strategy: how does London protect its interests, what is the basis of its trade relations, what new tools does it use to implement its trade policy in Central Asia?

Central Asia is one of the most dynamic and rewarding regions for UK businesses.

Our bilateral relationships with the countries in the region are strong and continue to get stronger. The UK has an ambition to help our businesses double their exports and boost our total global exports to be worth over £1 trillion (US$1.27 trillion) a year by 2030. This region, with its fast-growing and diversifying economies, presents huge opportunities for UK exporters and has a vital role to play in helping us reach our exporting ambition.

During my recent visit to Kazakhstan, I met many innovative British businesses who are demonstrating just how successful partnerships can be between businesses in the UK and Central Asia. There is so much potential across the region, and we stand ready to support further integration with the Rules Based International System. The UK offers world-class expertise in sectors such as green technology, mining, agriculture, financial products and services and education. By partnering with the UK, Central Asian businesses can benefit from our innovation.

In the last 3 years, we have seen some volatility in the UK trade with Central Asian countries. For example, in 2021 British-Uzbek trade more than doubled compared to 2020, while last year trade volumes decreased by almost 37%. As for Kazakhstan, in 2022 there is an increase in trade turnover by 40%. How do you explain this variability?

Trade volatility is impacted by several factors including inflation, long-term impacts of Covid and with trade in some commodities having increased in value whilst other commodities have decreased in value. This all has an impact on our trade figures.

However, we are really keen to do more trade. And we are doing more. A great example is the UK-Uzbekistan trading relationship. I am immensely proud of the work that our two countries are doing together to promote trade. Last year Tashkent hosted the 26th Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council (UBTIC) and it was a great platform to discuss opportunities to promote and increase bilateral trade and investment – a clear sign of the strengthening business links.

In the near future, the UK and Kazakhstan are looking to sign a new generation document – the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Could you please tell us about the potential of this agreement to strengthen trade cooperation between the two countries?

The Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will provide a basis for expanded cooperation and an opportunity to refresh our approach to trade with Kazakhstan.

It will underscore our ability to trade together through enhanced cooperation by establishing dialogues. It will facilitate UK-Kazakhstan trade further by reaffirming WTO rules and further liberalizing cross-border trade.

Outside of the SPCA, UK-Kazakh trade is strong in priority sectors like education, agriculture, clean energy and critical minerals. The Foreign Secretary already signed additional memoranda of understanding, enhancing cooperation on critical minerals and green hydrogen during his visit to Astana in March.

What are other Central Asian countries with which you are negotiating new agreements? When can we expect the end of the negotiations?

We are keen to continue to build upon and deepen our trading relationship with Central Asia. This starts with getting the business environment right. As one recent example, the UK has been a steadfast supporter of Uzbekistan’s WTO accession, which provides the opportunity to encourage rules-based international trade and improve the business environment for both Uzbek and UK businesses. We will continue to focus on promoting greater trade links across the region.

Is the UK taking steps to develop the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route and related projects to boost regional prosperity?

The Middle Corridor, or Trans-Caspian Transport project, could help improve trade resilience by improving connectivity from across the region through to Türkiye and beyond.

This is an opportunity for the UK to both facilitate investment in infrastructure and also support political agreement to create a predictable economic logistics pathway for Central Asia. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are also benefiting from the UK’s new Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS), which offers lower tariffs and simpler rules of origin requirements for countries exporting to the UK, helping them boost trade and their economies.

By Timur Dyussekeyev

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