BISHKEK (TCA) — With 2017 nearing to its end, mid-term recovery prospects of the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) member countries — Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan — become clearer to an extent. While at the beginning of the year there were concerns over the continuing recession in some countries of the region, it becomes evident by its end that all the EDB countries demonstrate positive economic growth, according to the findings of the monthly Macroeconomic Review published by the Chief Economist’s Group at EDB.
BISHKEK (TCA) — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) presented the achievements from the most recent evaluation surveys of its nutrition project in Kyrgyzstan, the Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING). The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, development partners, international organizations, practitioners, academia, and other stakeholders attended the roundtable last week, the US Embassy in Bishkek reported.
DUSHANBE (TCA) — A new aluminum plant will be built on the grounds of the existing aluminum company in Tajikistan, Igor Sattarov, spokesman of Tajik Aluminum Company state unitary enterprise, told a briefing in Dushanbe, Avesta news agency reported on November 18.
KABUL (TCA) — Officials from Afghanistan’s power supply company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS) on November 19 said that construction of a new power line between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan’s Baghlan province will get underway soon, TOLOnews reports.
BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament has approved amendments to the country’s Water Code which allow the development of Davydov and Lysyi glaciers at the country’s largest gold deposit, Kumtor. The amendments are necessary for the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry to permit further work at the deposit.
TASHKENT (TCA) — After the death of longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who preferred that Uzbekistan stay away from any Russia-led economic or military bloc, Moscow is currently taking active steps to get Tashkent involved in Russia’s sphere of economic, and political, influence. Will Tashkent continue its new rapprochement with Moscow? We are republishing this article by Fozil Mashrab on the issue, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:
BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Central Asia is an important geopolitical area between Europe, Russia and China. It is in Central Asia that world powers have confronted each other for centuries; it is here that China needs to succeed with its new Silk Road Belt for direct access to the Western markets; and it is here that a large wealth of raw materials has its origin. Every week thousands of news appears all over the world in printed and online media and it is quite understandable that many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of the region, and for this reason we are presenting this Weekly Digest of Central Asia which compiles what other media have reported during the past week.
ASHGABAT (TCA) — The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board of Directors has endorsed a 5-year Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Turkmenistan to support regional cooperation and economic diversification during 2017-2021. This is ADB’s first full CPS with Turkmenistan since the country joined ADB in 2000, the Bank said on November 17.
Fueled by its hydrocarbon exports—Turkmenistan is the 12th largest natural gas producer in the world, with the 4th largest natural gas reserves, and the 10th highest oil producer in the Asia and Pacific region—the country’s economy has grown rapidly. However, highly concentrated export basket and export markets have made the economy vulnerable to changes in commodity prices. Turkmenistan’s national development strategy aims to shift to a growth model based on economic diversification, innovation, and sustainable development, with greater regional cooperation.
“Turkmenistan has made important progress in recent years and achieved upper middle-income status,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Director General of ADB’s Central and West Asia Department. “ADB will work with the government and people of Turkmenistan to build on this progress by enabling the country to diversify its energy markets, improve its regional transport connectivity, and diversify its non-hydrocarbon economy.”
The CPS provides three main avenues of support: hydrocarbon market diversification and energy trade promotion; diversification of the non-hydrocarbon sectors through transport infrastructure investments to improve market connectivity, and supporting private sector development, including small and medium-sized enterprises; and knowledge work on economic diversification and reforms.
Regional power interconnection projects such as Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TUTAP), Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP), and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline project will be the primary vehicles of ADB support to diversify Turkmenistan’s power and natural gas export markets to South Asia. ADB has been instrumental for TAPI’s progress to date, serving as the TAPI secretariat since 2003 and, more recently, acted as transaction advisor. Going forward, ADB will continue to support the project, including the possibility of providing financial advice, financing shareholder equity in TAPI pipeline company, and non-sovereign loans, and credit enhancement.
ADB will support transport infrastructure investments to improve market access and regional connectivity. Modernizing institutions to increase the role of the private sector in the non-hydrocarbon economy, starting with small and medium-sized financing, will be a key area of engagement. To meet the needs of policymakers, ADB will also support knowledge work on economic diversification and economic reforms. Regional cooperation and integration, particularly within the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), which Turkmenistan joined in 2010, is a priority area of the CPS.
TASHKENT (TCA) — An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission visited Uzbekistan during November 7–16 and welcomed the Uzbek authorities’ continued efforts to adopt a more effective macroeconomic stabilization framework and to improve the economy’s investment climate, in line with the priorities of the development strategy of the country’s President.
The mission noted that the liberalization of the foreign exchange market in Uzbekistan in early-September was a significant first step, which seemed to be welcomed by all stakeholders.
“The authorities expressed their determination to follow up on the foreign exchange reform by liberalizing most prices, restructuring state-owned enterprises, and removing remaining bottlenecks to international trade and foreign direct investment,” the mission said in a statement at the conclusion of the visit.
“The mission noted that the next reform steps should aim at improving the investment climate and protecting the vulnerable segments of the population.
“Improved international commodity prices and trading partner growth will provide a favorable backdrop to the authorities’ reform efforts.
“Growth prospects remain broadly favorable, but there are risks to growth during this phase of economic transformation, as earlier experiences of other transition economies suggest.
“The mission welcomed the authorities’ focus on keeping inflationary pressures in check. To be able to more effectively control inflation, the Central Bank of Uzbekistan (CBU) is overhauling its monetary framework and is enhancing its operational capabilities.
“The mission also welcomed the authorities’ intention to allow the nominal exchange rate to respond to fundamental shifts in the supply and demand for foreign exchange. Further steps to liberalize transactions in the foreign exchange market would be welcome.
“Fiscal policy will have to continue to play the leading role in stabilizing the economy. In this context, the mission noted that it will be important that fiscal policy, defined as including all on- and off-budget operations, will need to remain tight going forward to help contain inflationary pressures.
“Following the liberalization of the foreign exchange market, the banking system remains well-buffered. But there was agreement that banks’ asset quality and liquidity needs to be monitored carefully, especially against the backdrop of the restructuring of the large state-owned enterprise sector.
“The mission welcomed the first concrete steps toward improving the quality and transparency of economic statistics. A new consumer price index measure, aligned with international standards, will be used to measure inflation from February 2018 onward. Uzbekistan has also progressed toward joining the IMF’s enhanced General Data Dissemination System (E-GDDS),” the statement concludes.
Reform in Uzbekistan: pain precedes gain
Written by EurasiaNet
TASHKENT (TCA) — As gasoline and diesel prices have jumped up in Uzbekistan, analysts are trying to explain the reason for the situation — which could be the lack of crude oil at Uzbek refineries and the inefficient, centralized system of fuel supply and distribution in the country. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by EurasiaNet.org:
On the morning of November 15, motorists in Uzbekistan arrived at filling stations to find shockingly high new prices for their gasoline and diesel.
The unwelcome surprise is the talk of the town in the capital, Tashkent, and on social media.
The relatively low-quality AI-80 category is selling at 3,800 sum ($0.40) per liter, more than one-third higher than the previous rate of 2,800 sum. Higher-grade AI-91 is going for 4,300 sum per liter, a massive jump from 3,000 sum.
Until October last year, gas price increases were typically only slight — a few cents at a time. The cycle of economic liberalization initiated in the wake of President Islam Karimov’s death, however, has injected volatility into a sensitive area of everyday life.
This latest development was not wholly unexpected. Rumors of an imminent hike earlier in November sparked a surge in demand, which in turn caused shortages and massive lines at filling stations. Such was the escalating public concern that Uzbeknefteprodukt, the state-run company responsible for running the fuel retail market, appealed in a statement on November 11 for motorists not to “succumb to panic and the influence of unreliable rumors.”
In what now appears like an attempt to mislead the public, an Uzbeknefteprodukt representative at one point announced publicly that there were no plans for a price rise.
“You know that we need to have a basis for such a development. If the government issues a decree, then we can talk about a rise in prices. But so far these are just rumors,” the company representative was quoted as saying by Podrobno.uz.
But even as those reassurance were rolling in, state-run television station Uzbekistan-24 was reporting on how gas stations all across the country — in Bukhara, Samarkand, Andijan and Kashkadarya — were running short of supplies. One report showed hawkers by the side of roads selling gasoline at 4,000-5,500 sum per liter, considerably higher than the officially sanctioned rate. The overall tenor of the TV news coverage has leaned toward blaming speculators over the state-organized system of fuel distribution for current problems. At one stage, an Uzbekistan-24 report suggested in a leading manner that perhaps allowing gas stations to charge more might cause speculative middlemen to disappear.
Some motorists are pinning the blame on filling station operators, accusing them of exploiting the sudden shortfall in supplies.
“Where are these middlemen getting their gas? They can hardly be making it themselves?” Sanat Sadikov, a taxi driver in the Ferghana Valley town of Kokand, said.
But the owner of one gas station in the city of Karshi, in southern Uzbekistan, assured Eurasianet.org that the shortage was real, not artificially created.
“They only deliver four tons of gas per week from the fuel distribution center. That gets sold in two days, so we have to close for the remaining days,” the gas station owner, Hamro Riskulov, said. “We have to deal with these fuel deficits somehow. Just making it more expensive is not going to make more [fuel] appear.”
The government is taking belated, but wide-ranging action on this front. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on November 16 ordered the Finance Ministry to extend an interest-free $250 million loan to two oil refineries to fund an increase in the import of crude oil. He also decreed that the import duties on crude hydrocarbons will be waived until January 1, 2020. In a measure intended to lighten the burden on motorists, Mirziyoyev also has ordered that excise taxes on the sale of gas will slashed by half.
In an ambitious attempt at regulating the market and squeezing out speculators, the government last October mandated that all gas should be sold at uniform prices at filling stations across the country. In the past, prices in filling stations located further from distribution facilities were higher, as transportation costs had to be factored in. Yet none of these efforts appears to have been especially successful in making the sector more predictable. The sight of small-time traders standing by the side of the road with repurposed water bottles and jerry cans full of fuel remain common.
Uzbeknefteprodukt is also part of the problem. The company operates in effect as a state monopoly as it is the only entity authorized to distribute fuel to retailers. Filling stations are not allowed to source their gas on the international market, and no foreign fuel companies are currently permitted to operate on the Uzbek market.
Economist Yuliy Yusupov, who has been a prolific commentator on the government’s economic reform agenda, said more liberalization would help mitigate the problem.
“What we need in this market is to bring in free pricing and competition. But what you have now is a centralized management and pricing system,” Yusupov told Eurasianet.org.
Economic affairs commentator Navruz Melibayev also pointed to activity on the currency exchange front as a cause for retail price volatility. In a big bang break with former practice, authorities in September allowed the Uzbek sum to trade freely at the market rate. As a result, the official rate of 4,210 sum to the dollar was permitted to drop to 8,100 overnight, which was close to the going rate on the black market used by most Uzbeks. That has hit companies like Uzbeknefteprodukt badly.
“Previously, Uzbeknefteprodukt bought oil, gasoline and other products at the preferential foreign exchange rate set by the Central Bank of Uzbekistan. Now the dollar rates are aligned and so the company has to import fuel at 8,100 sum to the dollar. That is what is causing the sharp jump in the price of gas,” Melibayev told Eurasianet.org.
That currency liberalization explanation was also offered by senior Uzbeknefteprodukt executive Adhamjon Isomov in an interview to Uzbek-language news website Daryo.uz.
“The prices we charge for fuel today do not cover the cost of buying the gas in the first place. I can say that we supply the population at a loss. The government covers our costs,” Isomov said.
Uzbek citizens are already bracing for the impact higher gas prices will have on the cost of transportation and, as a direct result, on their grocery bills.
“Without a doubt, retailers and producers will face higher transport bills and so they will pass the costs onto the end user,” Melibayev said.
Police in Tajikistan start investigation into week-old attack on opposition leader
Written by TCA
DUSHANBE (TCA) — Police in Dushanbe have launched an investigation into an assault against Rahmatillo Zoirov, leader of Tajikistan's opposition Social Democratic Party, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Uzbekistan holds Central Asian International Exhibition
Written by TCA
TASHKENT (TCA) — The Central Asian International Exhibition – 2017 started in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on November 15. “Mining World Uzbekistan – 2017”, “Machinery Central Asia – 2017”, “Trans Uzbekistan/Trans Logistica – 2017” and “CAIPS/Securika Central Asia – 2017” international exhibitions began their work within its framework, the Jahon information agency reports.
Kyrgyzstan rejects Kazakhstan’s $100 million EEU aid
Written by TCA
BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has signed a law cancelling an agreement under which his country would have received $100 million in aid from Kazakhstan to bring its customs and border-crossing infrastructure up to the standards of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), RFE/RL reports.
Kyrgyzstan's presidential website said on November 16 that the Foreign Ministry had been ordered to inform Kazakhstan's government about the new law.
Kyrgyzstan joined the EEU in August 2015. The Russian-led trade bloc also includes Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia.
Kazakhstan agreed in December 2016 to provide the $100 million aid package to Kyrgyzstan with the first disbursement to be released by the end of 2017. So far, Kazakhstan has not released any of the promised aid to Bishkek.
Relations between the Central Asian countries have deteriorated in recent months with outgoing President Atambayev accusing Kazakhstan of interfering in the campaign for Kyrgyzstan's October 15 presidential election.
On October 7, Atambayev said Kazakh authorities were "meddling in Kyrgyzstan's domestic affairs" by supporting opposition candidate Omurbek Babanov, the chief rival of Atambayev political ally Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with Babanov in Kazakhstan in September.
According to official election results, Jeenbekov won the vote in the first round. He is scheduled to be sworn into office on November 24.
Trans-Caspian International Transport Route to increase cargo transportation
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — On November 15, Azerbaijan’s capital Baku hosted the General Meeting of members of Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) International Association, which discussed increasing the volume of cargo transportation along this route and increasing its efficiency, the press office of Kazakhstan’s national railways company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ) said.
First container train sent from Finland to China via Kazakhstan
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — A train consisting of wagons of KTZ Express, a subsidiary of Kazakhstan’s national railways company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), on November 10 departed from the Finnish station Kouvola for the Chinese Xian through Kazakhstan, the press office of KTZ said.
OSCE promotes use of service dogs to ensure border security in Turkmenistan
Written by TCA
ASHGABAT (TCA) — A workshop for canine officers and veterinarians on using service dogs to ensure border security in Turkmenistan, organized by the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat, concluded on 13 November near the Turkmen capital.
Agreement on Afghanistan-Europe transport corridor signed
Written by TCA
ASHGABAT (TCA) — Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Turkmenistan on November 15 signed an agreement on a major international trade and transport corridor that will connect Afghanistan directly to Europe. The document was signed at the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor will begin in Afghanistan’s northern Aqina port in Faryab province and Torghandi in western Herat province and will run through to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan. From there it will cross the Caspian Sea and will link the Azerbaijani capital Baku to Tbilisi and Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. It will then connect with Kars in eastern Turkey before linking to Istanbul and Europe, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.
The agreement was finalized after three years of talks.
Signing the agreement for Afghanistan was acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, who said that the signing of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor Agreement marked a milestone in Afghanistan’s efforts to achieve greater connectivity through improvement and building of infrastructure for increased trade across Eurasia.
The Afghan delegation at the RECCA summit said the signing of the agreement is a new page in trade and transit in the region and for Afghanistan.
“It is a trade and transit agreement between five nations. According to this agreement, Afghanistan can have access to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey,” said Adela Raaz, deputy chairperson of economy at the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs.
Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) said the Lapis Lazuli Corridor is the nearest and cheapest way to transport Afghanistan and Asian goods to Europe.
According to the ACCI, by using the corridor, Afghanistan’s goods will travel through Turkmenistan, across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, then Georgia, across the Black Sea and through Turkey to the Mediterranean and Europe.
The ACCI said that 80 percent of goods to Europe will be transported by railway and also across the Caspian and Black Sea by ship.
Outgoing president of Kyrgyzstan continues war of words with Kazakhstan
Written by TCA
BISHKEK (TCA) — Outgoing Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev has criticized Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev again amid persistent tension between the neighboring Central Asian countries, saying he will not apologize to the "aged president", RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
Turkmenistan hosts regional forum on cooperation in water resources management
Written by TCA
ASHGABAT (TCA) — Cooperation in sustainable development and management of water resources of Central Asia was the subject of a regional meeting held under the chairmanship of Turkmenistan in the International Fund for Saving of Aral Sea (IFAS) in 2017–2019, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.
Kazakhstan, UNDP hold global symposium on South-South development exchange
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — Kazakhstan, now ranked as a Middle-Income Country, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the world’s preeminent development knowledge broker, and the Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana organized a South-South Development Exchange Symposium in Astana, that is taking place from November 14 to 17, bringing together the top government officials from 43 African countries. The objective of the symposium is to serve as a platform to review and exchange lessons and experiences to help African countries better design and implement their economic structural transformation policies.
European Union, Central Asia partners achieve results in disaster risk reduction
Written by TCA
ALMATY (TCA) — Projects supported by the European Union in Central Asia have had a significant impact in helping communities to be better prepared for natural disasters. The European Union's Disaster Preparedness Programme (DipECHO) has invested €46 million in over 100 projects across the region, supporting both the population and the governments of the region in preparing for and mitigating the consequences of natural disasters since 2003. The countries that have benefited are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the Delegation of the European Union to Kazakhstan said on November 13.
OSCE promotes cooperation among Central Asia, Afghanistan law enforcement agencies in countering drugs trafficking
Written by TCA
TASHKENT (TCA) — More than 50 representatives of law enforcement agencies and other ministries from France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Afghanistan as well as experts from nine international organizations gathered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 13 and 14 November to discuss greater cooperation among law enforcement agencies in combating the threat of illicit drugs, including New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), facilitated by the Internet and the “Darknet”, the OSCE reported.