What to expect from Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s visit to Qatar

Kazakhstan and Qatar
Collage credit: midjourney, akorda.kz

As President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev prepares to pay a state visit to Qatar on February 13-14, anticipation is high for the fruitful discussions and collaborations that lie ahead. This visit marks a significant milestone in the longstanding bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Qatar spanning more than 30 years. Kazinform News Agency sheds light on the historical ties between Kazakhstan and Qatar, what to expect from the visit and the promising prospects for cooperation.

Historical ties

The relationship between Kazakhstan and Qatar traces its roots back to July 1, 1993, when the diplomatic relations were established. In May 2007, the Embassy of Kazakhstan was established in Qatar and since March 2008, the Qatari Embassy in Kazakhstan has been functioning.

The first steps of cooperation between the two countries were taken during the official visit of then-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Tokayev, to Qatar on May 26-27, 1997. In April 1998, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, made a visit to Almaty.

Since establishing diplomatic relations in 1993, the two countries have worked to strengthen their bonds across various sectors. Over the years, high-level visits, cultural exchanges, and economic partnerships have contributed to the deepening of ties between Astana and Doha.

Between 2019 and 2023, President Tokayev and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani met five times at various international venues.

In June 2022, at the invitation of the Emir, President Tokayev participated in the Second Qatar Economic Forum. In October 2022, the Emir of Qatar made a state visit to Kazakhstan. Following the visit, 12 bilateral documents were signed at the governmental and interdepartmental levels.

He also visited the Kazakh capital in June 2023 to attend the Astana International Forum.

“Qatar is an important state in the Middle East. A country with its own distinctiveness and capable of achieving its goals in foreign policy and acting independently. This is why Qatar has quite complex relations with neighboring countries. It is a challenging partner for its neighbors, but its influence in the Middle East is significant," said Adil Kaukenov, chief expert at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, in an interview with the Kazinform News Agency.

The relations between Kazakhstan and Qatar have no contradictions, he added, the result of Kazakhstan’s decades-long constructive and balanced foreign policy.

“Kazakhstan, overall, has no enemies. All countries treat Kazakhstan very positively. This positive attitude allows Kazakhstan to cooperate with Qatar on multiple fronts,” said Kaukenov.

The two countries also collaborate well on a multilateral level. Qatar is a member of the Conference for Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia, proposed by Kazakhstan in 1992.

Qatar is also a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which Kazakhstan chairs in 2024.

Economic cooperation

Economic cooperation stands as a cornerstone of Kazakhstan-Qatar relations. Both countries boast vibrant economies with strengths in different sectors, presenting ample opportunities for collaboration.

With Kazakhstan's strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and Qatar's position as a major hub in the Middle East, there is immense potential for enhancing trade and investment between the two nations. President Tokayev's visit is expected to explore avenues for further economic cooperation, including joint ventures, infrastructure projects, and investments in emerging sectors.

Trade has been steadily rising over the years. In 2021, trade reached $6.3 million, going down from $8.6 million in 2020. This figure is staggering compared to just $1.9 billion in trade in 2019.

In 2022, bilateral trade amounted to $6.42 million. In 11 months of 2023, the figure stood at $9.6 million.

Several factors could contribute to the relatively low level of bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and Qatar. One of them is simply a geographical distance, which increases transportation costs and logistics challenges, making trade more expensive and less competitive.

Promising areas for cooperation

Qatar, renowned for its expertise in energy, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), has been an important partner for Kazakhstan in the energy sector. According to the data from the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), Qatar was the largest exporter of LNG in 2022, with a volume of 80 million tons of exported LNG.

However, potential for trade and investments remain untapped. Establishing additional channels for the supply of Kazakhstan’s goods to Qatar, strengthening cooperation between the two countries' businesses, and increasing mutual trade turnover was the focus of the sixth meeting of the Kazakhstan-Qatar Joint High-Level Commission in Doha on October 3, 2023.

According to Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangarin, Kazakhstan’s meat producers and other food manufacturers express interest in exporting goods to the Qatari market.

“In this regard, I believe it is advisable to expedite the procedures for the approval of Halal certificates between our countries. Additionally, we are prepared to supply premium food products such as caviar, fish, honey, and others. Furthermore, there is significant potential for cooperation between our countries in the energy sector. Kazakhstan has set serious goals for increasing the resource base of natural gas and producing high-value-added products through the development of gas processing and petrochemicals, as well as the construction of liquefied natural gas plants," stated Zhumangarin.

Qatari Minister of Commerce and Industry Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Qassim Al-Thani, in turn, believes the relations between Qatar and Kazakhstan are developing positively.

“During the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to Astana, a number of agreements were reached, allowing us to cooperate in the designated areas. I invite Kazakh investors to establish strong partnerships with our business people. I am confident that the trade turnover between our countries will reach new heights," said the Qatari official.

Financial services are also among areas with ample potential for cooperation, including between Kazakhstan’s Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) and the Qatar Financial Center. This also includes cooperation in the development of Islamic finance.

Investments are also relatively low, given the huge untapped potential. Since 2015, the gross inflow of Qatari investments in Kazakhstan made up nearly $65 million, according to the data from the National Bank of Kazakhstan.

According to Kaukenov, Qatar possesses significant investment resources, which Kazakhstan needs.

“Doha is a major world-level aviation hub. There are serious funds in Qatar earmarked for investments abroad. Qatar has interest, because Kazakhstan is an economic leader in the Central Asian region," noted Kaukenov.

He highlighted construction, manufacturing, oil processing and chemical industry among promising areas for cooperation.

According to the official data from the Kazakh government, there are three Qatari companies operating. One in the financial sector, and two engaged in scientific research activities.

As part of the Emir of Qatar’s visit to Astana in June 2023, a roundtable discussion took place involving the leadership of the top 10 large companies in Qatar. As a result of the meeting, the sides signed five documents totaling over $500 million. It includes a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of joint investment funds in the dairy production sector and a memorandum of understanding and cooperation between Kazakh Invest national company and the Qatar Investment Promotion Agency.

The framework agreement was also signed on a project for the construction of a medical hub in the city of Astana between the Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan and Power International Holding. The multifunctional medical hub in Astana will be designed for 300 beds and will include polyclinic, diagnostic, and rehabilitation blocks. The project cost is estimated at $300 million.

A project for the construction of a grain deep processing plant in the Akmola region is being developed. Opportunities are also present for joint projects involving QatarEnergy in the gas sector.

Direct flights boost cooperation

Direct flights play a crucial role in enhancing bilateral ties between countries by facilitating easier and more frequent interaction between their people, businesses, and governments. On November 19, 2021, Qatar Airways launched a direct flight route from Doha to Almaty.

During his meeting with the Kazakh Ambassador to Qatar Arman Issagaliyev, Qatar Airways CEO Badr Al Meer said in December 2023, the Qatari carrier increased the number of direct flights on the Almaty-Doha route to 14 flights per week and shared plans to open direct air service between Astana and Doha in 2024.

The sides also observe a growth of cargo flights, said the Kazakh diplomat. Since the beginning of 2023, there has been a noticeable increase in the volume of bilateral trade by 2.8 times. Kazakh exports to Qatar grew by 59.3 percent and amounted to $5.0 million, of which 15.5 percent accounted for Kazakh meat and meat products, which have become available in major retail chains in Qatar.

According to the Kazakh Embassy in Doha, since 2022, around 20,000 Kazakh citizens visited Qatar.

Overall, President Tokayev's visit to Qatar holds immense promise for strengthening the bonds between Kazakhstan and Qatar across various fronts. The packed schedule of the visit is poised to allow countries to embark on a new chapter of partnership.

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