A new era of Gulf-Central Asian cooperation

A new era of Gulf-Central Asian cooperation

This alliance between the Gulf and Central Asia represents a bridge between diverse cultures and strategic regions (AFP)
This alliance between the Gulf and Central Asia represents a bridge between diverse cultures and strategic regions (AFP)
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Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last month visited Doha for two days of extensive discussions with the Qatari leadership. During the visit, President Tokayev highlighted Kazakhstan’s readiness to increase exports to Qatar across 60 non-resource commodity items totaling $250 million and proposed increasing mutual trade to $500 million in the near future. This visit, which marked 30 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries, reflected Kazakhstan’s commitment to expanding its relationship with the Gulf states, as well as its evolving position as an active and productive power on the world stage.

Against a backdrop of global geopolitical tensions and economic challenges, the partnerships between these regions stand as beacons of resilience and opportunity, showcasing the potential for shared prosperity in a world undergoing transformative changes.

In my role as minister of trade and integration, I have made it my mission to ensure that Kazakhstan embraces this responsibility and maintains its status as a competitive global partner for diplomacy, trade and foreign investment. Our country has become a crucial transport and logistics hub, creating new trade routes and collaborating with logistics companies. We plan to systematically increase the cargo flow through the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route and bring it to 500,000 containers annually by 2030. Kazakhstan has also committed itself to addressing global food shortages through agro-industrial projects. In this regard, we can effectively use the potential of the Islamic Organization for Food Security.

Kazakhstan has always viewed the Gulf region as a particularly fertile environment for shared prosperity and economic development

Arman Shakkaliyev

In pursuit of such goals, my office has worked closely with counterparts from countries and companies around the world, aiming to form partnerships that can foster growth and progress for all parties involved. Throughout these experiences, Kazakhstan has always viewed the Gulf region as a particularly fertile environment for shared prosperity and economic development. Today, we find ourselves on the cusp of unprecedented levels of collaboration between Kazakhstan and several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

We have previously emphasized Astana’s commitment to boosting bilateral trade with the UAE, focusing on agriculture, and aiming to achieve $1 billion in annual bilateral trade. We have established a strong foundation to achieve this goal. In 2023, the volume of mutual trade turnover between Kazakhstan and the UAE amounted to $329 million. From 2005 to 2022, the gross inflow of direct investments from the UAE to Kazakhstan totaled $3.2 billion, while investments from Kazakhstan to the UAE exceeded $1 billion.

Overall, the Gulf countries have invested approximately $3.6 billion in Kazakhstan’s economy. Eager to build on these investment ties, our country is undertaking large-scale reforms to diversify the economy and create favorable conditions for foreign investments. The Gulf Cooperation Council states and the Central Asian countries known as the C5 have dedicated substantial efforts to fostering bilateral and multilateral ties between the two regions. Last year’s inaugural leaders’ summit between the GCC and C5 in Jeddah served as a prime example of this flourishing relationship, leading to the unanimous approval of a joint action plan for strategic dialogue and cooperation.

True to its nature as a cooperative and ambitious nation, Kazakhstan has taken full advantage of this comprehensive framework for enhanced cooperation across the fields of trade, security, culture and education. Notably, the GCC countries expressed interest in investing in the region’s energy sector, including renewables. Central Asia boasts more than 30 billion tonnes of explored oil reserves and 20 trillion cubic meters of gas. Since the signing of the action plan last year, our domestic oil companies have formed exclusive joint ventures with leading Gulf transport conglomerates, including the Abu Dhabi Ports Group, to bolster connectivity and provide world-class shipping services to energy companies in the Caspian Sea.

In our increasingly polarized world, the close partnership between the Gulf and Central Asia emerges as a noteworthy case study

Arman Shakkaliyev

Meanwhile, the Development Bank of Kazakhstan and the Saudi Export-Import Bank signed a memorandum of understanding late last year to establish a joint innovation hub and facilitate access for Kazakh startup projects to markets in the Middle East and North Africa. This agreement was signed during the sixth meeting of the Kazakh-Saudi Intergovernmental Joint Committee on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation.

In our increasingly polarized world, the close partnership between the Gulf and Central Asia emerges as a noteworthy case study, illustrating the value of recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities to work together. Significantly, Kazakhstan has provided visa-free access for all Gulf countries and has established direct air communication with their capitals.

Among the primary drivers of success in Central Asia-Gulf cooperation is the regions’ deliberate adoption of a multi-vector foreign policy. This strategic positioning grants our countries the autonomy needed to navigate the complexities of a fragmented world, promoting peace and stability in the international system.

Moreover, both Central Asia and the Gulf share a strategic focus on industries of the future. This joint commitment to technological advancement, innovation and sustainable development not only positions our countries as pioneers but also establishes a robust foundation for collaborative ventures. By aligning our priorities with the demands of the future, our regions can transcend traditional geopolitical boundaries and foster a forward-thinking approach.

Additionally, the success of this cooperation hinges on an inherent appetite for global engagement and a coveted status as global conveners. Functioning as bridges between the Global South and Global North, occasions like the GCC and C5 leaders’ summit and the Kazakh-Saudi Intergovernmental Joint Committee have enabled policymakers, including myself, to share ideas and uncover new areas of exchange.

Later this year, Kazakhstan will provide yet another platform for high-level dialogue in the form of the Astana International Forum. Motivated by a fundamental belief in the power of diplomacy, Kazakhstan is proud to host this unique event on June 13-14. World leaders, business executives and expert academics will come together to address the challenges and opportunities emerging both in Kazakhstan and across the international landscape.

With our flourishing relationship with the Gulf region as a compelling example, we hope that the forum will serve as a catalyst for continued cross-border diplomacy and economic cooperation. This is particularly significant for nations that continue to uphold an open stance within the international system. Guided by these values, Kazakhstan stands as a testament to the success of such collaboration, enjoying unprecedented levels of growth and development.

The burgeoning partnership between the Gulf and Central Asia, particularly highlighted by Kazakhstan’s role, sets a new standard in international cooperation. This alliance, driven by shared goals in economic diversification, trade enhancement and sustainable development, represents a bridge between diverse cultures and strategic regions. This collaboration stands as a model for regional growth and an emblem of global unity and understanding.

  • Arman Shakkaliyev is Minister of Trade and Integration of the Republic of Kazakhstan. X: @A_Shakkaliyev
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