Astana Economic Forum puts Kazakhstan at the heart of global debate

Kazakhstan prides itself at being at the centre of Eurasia. But with EXPO 2017, the Eurasian Media Forum and the annual Astana Economic Forum all taking place here this month, there is a case for suggesting that our country is – at least for a short while – at the heart of global debate.

Nearly 4,000 experts have registered to attend this year’s 10th Astana Economic Forum held under the title “New Energy – New Economy”. They have been attracted by an agenda which promises to examine the drivers and obstacles to regional and global prosperity. Among the topics they will debate are how sustainable growth can be achieved, how innovation can be encouraged and the role of green energy in the world’s future.

The delegates from countries around the world will arrive in Astana at a time of continuing uncertainty for the global economy. Productivity in many economies is under pressure, investment is falling and there are concerns that the innovative advances we need to power growth and rising living standards may suffer.

It is also hard to think of a period in the recent past when the benefits of globalisation and even international trade have been so widely doubted. These concerns are shared not only by ordinary citizens but also by national leaders.

As the economic forum will discuss, Kazakhstan is standing out against this worrying trend. While others are becoming more inward looking, Kazakhstan is increasing cooperation with its neighbours to expand opportunities, employment and spread prosperity. This is based on the evidence which shows that we all benefit if trade can be encouraged.

The country is now a vital link in China’s New Silk Road initiative and is an active member of the Eurasian Economic Union. Transport links have been improved not only to the major markets to the east and west but also to the south. At a time when some countries are lowering their sights, Kazakhstan has shown its confidence in the future.

This has been coupled with continued reforms and investment to strengthen its economy. A far-reaching domestic programme of modernisation has been put in place. Privatisations of major sectors are being accelerated to introduce new funding and new ideas. The establishment of the Astana International Financial Centre is designed to secure Kazakhstan’s position as a key regional hub in the global economy but also to attract new investment to Central Asia as a whole.

These steps have already been reflected in the positive way our country and economy is viewed globally. Kazakhstan was one of the biggest risers in the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business report, jumping six places to 35th in the league table.

This significant improvement follows a series of concrete steps to remove barriers to investment. They include making it easier to set up new businesses, to obtain a building permit and export goods.

Shareholders’ and investors’ rights have also been strengthened, propelling Kazakhstan into the top five countries for protecting minority investors, according to the World Bank. There is more to do but Kazakhstan is moving in the right direction.

Among the areas where there is great potential is in renewable energy which is also an important topic for discussion at the Astana Economic Forum. Last month, a unique atlas, drawn up by the Ministry of Energy and the United Nations Development Programme, enabled the public for the first time to examine online the country’s solar energy potential.

It is potential which is already being acknowledged outside our country. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development recently approved a framework to invest up to €200 million ($224 million) in the development of renewable energies within our borders.

It is a practical example of the international partnerships which will help improve living standards while protecting our planet. If we achieve these ambitions, we need more, not less, international cooperation on economic challenges.

Now is not the time to lower our sights but to work together more closely. Finding this common ground is exactly the aim of the Astana Economic Forum.