BISHKEK (TCA) — President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev has proposed to create a regional transport council of the Central Asian countries.
The council could become a coordinating body to solve transportation and logistics problems, President Mirziyoyev said in his greetings to the participants of the international high-level conference "Central Asia in the system of international transport corridors: strategic prospects and unrealized opportunities" held on September 20 in Tashkent on Uzbekistan’s initiative.
New stage of regional interaction
Over 400 delegates from 37 countries including representatives of government and international organizations, financial institutions, transportation and logistics unions discussed the development of existing and creation of new transport corridors.
After Mirziyoyev was elected President in December 2016, Uzbekistan began to intensively develop its trade, economic, energy, cultural and humanitarian relations with other states including the Central Asian countries. Mutually acceptable decisions have been reached on rational use of water and energy resources and delimitation and demarcation of state borders. Particular attention is paid to the removal of various restrictions and barriers in the transportation sector.
The adoption of a special resolution on Central Asia by the UN General Assembly on June 22, 2018 was a historic event marking the beginning of a new stage of regional interaction. Visa and customs procedures were simplified between the countries of the region, additional checkpoints opened, and dozens of new routes for road, rail and air traffic restored.
However, as practice shows, these measures are not enough.
“Given the important geostrategic position of Central Asia, which connects the largest international markets, it is of particular importance to join our efforts to accelerate the region’s integration into the system of international transport corridors,” the Uzbek President said.
Currently, the states of the region, having no direct access to sea ports, bear significant transit costs, which reach 70-80% of the value of exported products.
Logistic companies lose up to 40% of their time for transportation of goods due to imperfect customs procedures. The Central Asian countries occupy the bottom positions among 167 states in the World Bank's Logistics Performance Index rating.
In this regard, the Tashkent conference was important from the point of view of launching new integration processes in Central Asia.
Region’s transit potential
To develop their transit potential and increase the transportation component in national economies, the Central Asian countries should attract foreign investments and apply modern technologies, said the conference participants.
According to the UN experts, regional GDP can grow at least twice in ten years due to effective cooperation of the Central Asian countries. Taking this into account, the countries of the region, implementing the Ashgabat agreement, began to create the Russia–Kazakhstan–Uzbekistan–Turkmenistan–Iran–Oman–India sub-regional transportation corridor.
The countries pin a great hope on the early start of the construction of the Uzbekistan–Kyrgyzstan–China railway. In the future, it should become an important link in the new transport corridor from China via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, then through the newly constructed Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway to the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and to the Mediterranean ports within the East-West project.
The conference participants stressed the importance of involving Afghanistan in this process. The constructed Hairatan—Mazar-i-Sharif railway and the projected Mazar-i-Sharif—Herat highway will form a new transport corridor with access to the Iranian, Pakistani and Indian railways and to the Chabahar and Gwadar ports as part of the North-South project.
Development strategy needed
The integration of the countries is constrained due to the lack of common approaches to the development of transportation systems, removal of barriers, simplification of visa, transit and customs procedures, harmonization of tariff policy, and improvement of the transport infrastructures.
In this regard, Uzbekistan proposed to create a Regional Transport Corridors Development Strategy in Central Asia, with the assistance of experts from the World Bank, the Asian and Islamic Development Banks and other international institutions.
Given that the countries of the region play a key role in the SCO’s activities, the integrated transportation management system should be established within this organization, the meeting participants believe. Jointly developed transportation communications and infrastructure will increase the tourist attractiveness of the region.
Removing barriers at checkpoints
The Central Asian countries have a huge logistical potential due to their favorable geographical position, said Kyrgyz Transport Minister Jamshid Kalilov. These opportunities should be used, despite the lack of direct access to sea ports.
“To attract additional cargo to the region, we have to maintain existing and build new transport corridors. It is also necessary to create logistics centers," the Minister added.
The Andijan–Osh–Kashgar route connects Central Asia with China, and another major transport corridor, connecting Central Asia with the Indian Ocean, passes through Almaty, Bishkek, Naryn, Kashgar, Karakorum Highway, Islamabad and Karachi, Kalilov said.
He proposed to remove non-physical barriers at checkpoints and reduce unauthorized stops and inspections of drivers and cargoes, and harmonize the maximum permissible parameters of motor vehicles. First of all, it is necessary to observe the rules of passenger and cargo safety, he added.
Logistics hub at the Caspian Sea
Kazakhstan’s integration in the development programs with neighboring and involved countries are being successfully implemented, Deputy Board Chairman of the Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (Railway) JSC, Sanzhar Elyubayev, said at the conference.
"Currently, the delivery of goods by land routes to the Eurasian markets at a distance of 10 to 12 thousand kilometers takes from 13 to 16 days. This stimulates demand for these transportations through Kazakhstan, and freight flows between Asia and Europe through the railway double annually. Kazakhstan’s transit potential in the Eurasian markets is estimated up to 2 million TEU, Elyubayev said (TEU, or twenty-foot equivalent is an inexact unit of cargo capacity).
He proposed to further develop Kazakhstan’s logistics hub at the Caspian Sea and the ports of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to ensure speed and technological linkage in multimodal transport.
On the Kazakhstani coast of the Caspian Sea, the Aktau port has been expanded, and its capacity has increased up to 19.5 million tons per year. The Kuryk multimodal port with capacity of cargo processing of up to 7 million tons per year is being constructed and included in the network of international transport corridors.
In general, the capacity of Kazakhstan’s logistics hub at the Caspian Sea is 26 million tons per year. It provides for the shortest way for cargo transportation between the Central Asian countries, China, Caucasus, Turkey and Europe.
The new Uzbekistan’s foreign policy has created a more optimistic atmosphere in Central Asia.
In dynamically developing international relations, creation of a powerful transportation infrastructure is a strategic issue for Central Asia. The implementation of Uzbekistan’s initiative to develop Central Asian system of international transport corridors will help strengthen stability in the region and increase its competitiveness in the global transportation services market.
Currently, when new interaction principles are being developed, it is necessary to find a balance between national priorities and common tasks for the entire region. The conference participants confirmed that the interaction should be brought to a new level, primarily in attracting investments and innovative projects.
The conference supported Uzbekistan’s initiative to establish a regional transport council. The experts also discussed the possibility of drafting a regional agreement on the joint development of the transportation system in Central Asia.