BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 2
By Nargiz Sadikhova - Trend:
Kazakhstan is a clear leader among Central Asian countries in global economic integration, Regional Director of the World Bank in Central Asia Lilia Burunciuc told Trend.
Burunciuc said that almost 30 years after five Central Asian countries have embarked on their independent paths, they have recorded positive growth rates and made significant progress in reducing poverty.
“This process has gone hand in hand with their integration in the global economy. However, despite the progress, the region has yet to reach its ample potential. Much progress can be achieved if countries prioritize reducing the state’s role in business, create conditions for a vibrant private sector, and diversify their economies,” Burunciuc said.
She added that signs are emerging that Central Asia may be moving toward more robust economies and better standards of living.
“The beacons of hope include Uzbekistan’s dramatic reforms, improving trade-enhancing transportation infrastructure, growing economic links between Central and South Asia, and Central Asian countries’ increased willingness to tackle challenges together,” Burunciuc said.
She added that region’s four resource-rich countries have had varying degrees of success integrating with the world economy.
“This is a key issue because commodities account for 65 percent of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan’s exports and 90 percent of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan’s. Kazakhstan has been the clear leader in global economic integration by increasing its agricultural, petroleum and minerals exports and finding ways to bypass Russia to get them to global markets. Kyrgyzstan has made progress, too, although its resources are more limited,” she said.
Talking signs of region’s progress Burunciuc noted that one of them is Uzbekistan’s economic surge.
“In 2017 it embarked on reforms that have transformed the economy, society and governance. Price and exchange-rate controls have been loosened, and trade tariffs liberalized. Taxes on businesses and households have been cut. And the role of government – although still large – is being reduced. The changes are raising expectations of a more vibrant private sector, more opportunities for common folks, and higher incomes,” she said.
As Uzbekistan opens the door to more trade and economic integration with the world Burunciuc said that Central Asia, as a region, is exploring ways to increase its exports and is also discussing intra-regional investment opportunities and ways to boost business and entrepreneurship.
“Another sign of Central Asian progress is its transportation and petroleum infrastructure-building which far beyond China’s high-profile Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as countries in the region are building roads, railroads, and pipelines that connect them with nations that can buy or transship their goods,” the regional director said.
Citing the recent World Bank report she said that the result of the BRI, exports of time-sensitive agricultural products from Central Asia are likely to increase by 8.6 percent and processed food by more than 17 percent.
“Infrastructure improvements from the BRI, combined with measures to reduce border crossing delays, are likely to lead to an increase in foreign direct investment by more than 7 percent, leading to increases in GDP by more than 1 percent,” the regional director said.
Further she added that Central Asia’s growing links with South Asia provide opportunities for growth and exports.
“One example is the CASA 1000 – a transmission line that, once completed, will send surplus electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Another project, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipe (TAPI) pipeline, will deliver Central Asian gas to energy-hungry South Asian countries,” Burunciuc highlighted .
The fourth and the final sign that Burunciuc pointed out is Central Asian countries’ growing willingness to work together to solve common challenges.
“These include ways to strengthen regional trade, create a regional energy grid, and reduce the region’s threat of terrorism. A recent meeting of Central Asian heads of state in Tashkent captured the new spirit of cooperation,” the regional director said.
Concluding she said that a region that many once dismissed as a victim of geography – because of its long distances, limited populations, and ethnic and cultural divisions – is on the march and Central Asian governments need to make economic and social reforms to continue the momentum.
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