People-to-people links key facet of bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan – Nusrat Ghani

Photo: UK Paliament

Ahead of the Kazakhstan-UK Inter-Governmental Commission’s 10th anniversary meeting, Kazinform correspondent in London Timur Dyussekeyev sat down with Nusrat Ghani, Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade and Minister of State responsible for the Investment Security at the Cabinet Office, to talk about the upcoming meeting, Kazakhstan’s transition from power-consuming industry to a more technology-intensive economy and potential easing of visa requirements for Kazakhstanis.

The 10th anniversary meeting of the Kazakhstan-UK Inter-Governmental Commission will be held in mid-November. Please tell us what issues are on the agenda, how would you characterize trade and economic relations between Kazakhstan and the UK, what favourably distinguishes British companies and their products from other competitors from Europe and Asia?

I’m really pleased that my first visit to Kazakhstan will be to co-chair our Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Investment for its 10th anniversary. This is such an important event for both sides. It allows us to reflect on our thriving trading relationship, worth £2.9bn last year, but also to look towards the future and explore how we can keep boosting trade and create a relationship for the benefit of both UK and Kazakh businesses.

UK investment into Kazakhstan in particular stands out as a great example of our growing connections. The UK has long been a top six investor in Kazakhstan and now we are seeing more and more British SMEs entering the market and setting up offices and joint ventures, creating quality local jobs in Kazakhstan. We are also seeing a lot of interest from UK universities, helping to build Kazakhstan’s offer as a transnational educational hub.

What do British business bring? Innovation and social responsibility. The UK has four of the top ten universities in the world, and a culture of innovation. British businesses benefit directly from this and have access to some of the most advanced goods and services on the planet.

You can see the benefits of this in the mining sector. British geological surveying expertise is helping Kazakhstan locate previously undiscovered mineral deposits, and our businesses are creating innovative and efficient new ways of handling industry challenges like water systems and tailings management.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has delayed some climate targets and mitigated certain green requirements because of the economic costs they impose on Britons. Kazakhstan, which is a developing economy and obtains energy from traditional sources, is undergoing a costly transition from power-consuming industry to a more technology-intensive economy. Kazakhstan has also successfully begun its transition to a green economy, but we are in the early stage. Do you think it is fair to mitigate climate requirements for emerging economies?

We are not slowing down our efforts to deliver net zero. In fact, the UK has over-delivered on every target to cut emissions so far, cutting emissions faster than any other major economy (by around 48% between 1990-2021). We are absolutely dedicated to supporting developing economies to drive forward progress to net zero too. At the G20 Leaders Summit in New Delhi, our Prime Minister announced that the UK would provide a further $2 billion (£1.6 billion) to the Green Climate Fund the world’s largest multilateral climate fund. The UK is among the top contributors. Working with organisations like the World Bank, ADB, EBRD and others, Kazakhstan can tap into the GCF and other international climate programmes, as well as attract private investment into energy, water and other green transition infrastructure.

We welcomed the publication of Kazakhstan’s net zero strategy earlier this year and we will support the government in its delivery of this. Since 2011, working through development organisations such as the World Bank and EBRD, UK International Climate Finance has supported numerous climate-related projects in Kazakhstan worth millions of pounds. We are actively increasing our engagement in Kazakhstan and across the region on climate security and water management.

During a visit to Astana in March, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly signed a memorandum of understanding to expand co-operation in critical minerals. The Kazakhstani side signalled that the greatest support would go to those companies investing in high value-added products. How far are British partners willing to go towards organizing advanced processing facilities, given the UK's leadership in research and development of semiconductor technologies?

Our Bilateral Critical Minerals MoU was a significant stepto push closer collaboration in this area. UK companies are actively exploring new opportunities; and we have been supporting ways to enhance collaboration between our respective geological surveys, improve access to data, as well as looking at scientific and educational opportunities to support the next generation of mining specialists.

We know how important value-added manufacturing is to Kazakhstan’s economy and we are grateful to the support provided to those wishing to set up manufacturing operations in Kazakhstan. If the investment climate and economic conditions are right, British partners will be interested in exploring value-added processing in Kazakhstan with local partners. We already have British partners exploring technology partnerships in localized mineral processing with Kazakhstani companies, which is an important first step to build up the domestic value chain in Kazakhstan’s mining sector.

Kazakhstan and the UK have signed a memorandum of understanding to expand co-operation in the field of "green" hydrogen. As I understood, this hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water. Could you tell us more about the work being done in this area, what water sources are planned to be used, and have there been any studies of the impact of such projects on the ecology of Kazakhstan?

Low carbon hydrogen is an exciting new prospect for renewable energy that the UK is actively exploring. The UK’s Hydrogen Strategy explains our domestic strategy to develop this sector, and we are keen to support major hydrogen projects in the pipeline in Kazakhstan. We are planning future collaboration in areas such as investment and high-tech solutions under this MoU.

As the President himself has highlighted, water supply is a pressing issue for Kazakhstan. The UK has been actively engaging with policy makers and businesses in Kazakhstan to highlight some of the challenges around water management for green hydrogen and more generally and offer our expertise.

We recently held a wastewater workshop bringing together business, academics, government and financial institutions to discuss how to use wastewater more effectively and finance future projects. We also hope Kazakhstan will consider joining the UK led Water Tracker programme. The UK is home to some of the most renowned academic experts on water management in the world, and we have hosted two expert roundtables in Astana over the last 9 months focused on water management.

Last year, almost 9 thousand Kazakhstani tourists visited the UK. Despite the fact that Kazakh tourists have proven themselves to be among the most disciplined over the past decades, nevertheless, in order to obtain permission to enter the country, it is necessary to collect a decent package of documents. Given the interest of the parties to expand trade, do you think it is necessary to start consultations on easing visa requirements, given the practice of accelerated issuance of visas for seasonal workers that has been developed over several years?

First of all, I’m delighted that the number of visitors to and / from Kazakhstan is starting to pick up strongly again following the end of Covid restrictions. People-to-People links are a key facet of the bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan.

The UK provides a comprehensive service to customers in Kazakhstan. It is one of just a few places in the region eligible for the super priority (24 hour) service for example. Businesspersons with a track record of doing business in the UK can also apply for 5-year or 10-year visas, minimising any bureaucracy and inconvenience.

I should also like to point out that several leading companies in Kazakhstan are members of the Global Partner Programme (GPP). The GPP is a service offered by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) at no additional cost to support companies who regularly send their staff to the UK on business. One of the many benefits is that members may submit reduced supporting documentation for their trip.

We know everyone would like to do away with visas, but I want to assure you that we do keep our visa system regularly under review. Our Future Borders and Immigration System (FBIS) Programme aims to deliver a much-more streamlined, digital system. By the end of 2025 we will have a secure and seamless, fully digital, end to end journey for customers interacting with the immigration system and we hope that this will make the system much easier for everyone.

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