Future for Kazakhstan-UK Relations Remains Bright

Kazakhstan has come a long way in a short time. In 21 years, we have moved from a Soviet republic with no private sector to a sovereign state with a market economy ranked as one of the ten fastest growing in the world.

We have never forgotten that Britain was among the first countries to recognise Kazakhstan’s independence nor the major role that British companies, big and small, have played in helping modernise our economy and drive our prosperity.

Britain remains one of our biggest economic partners, consistently one of the top three for foreign domestic investment. Since the independence of Kazakhstan, British investment here has totalled over US$20 billion. There are more than 500 joint ventures between our companies.

The investment and expertise of British firms and our other partners has helped us increase our per capita GDP 16-fold since 1991, from about 700 dollars to 12,500 dollars per capita.

Some of the UK’s largest companies operate in Kazakhstan, generating jobs and wealth for the local community. This includes BG, Shell, Rio Tinto as well as contracting companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Invensys.

The United Kingdom has a symbolic and important place in Kazakhstan’s journey to independence. It will be 20 years this November that the UK printed our first tenge banknotes, and some of Astana’s greatest landmarks have been designed by Lord Norman Foster, a renowned British architect

The UK is an important partner for the Kazakhstan on the world stage, sharing strategic interests and values.

Kazakhstan is taking the lead in encouraging regional support for Afghanistan and is proud to be part of the Northern Distribution Network supporting British and international forces in the country. In May of this year, Kazakhstan’s parliament ratified an agreement allowing Britain to get its troops and equipment home through Kazakhstan.

The future of Afghanistan is critical to the stability of Central Asia that is why Kazakhstan has prioritised supporting Afghanistan. We currently provide international aid, student scholarships and police training programmes.

The United Kingdom has also played a major role in Kazakhstan’s political evolution. We appreciate the UK’s continued interest and recognise that a frank and open dialogue is an important part of this process. We do not, in any way, want to discourage constructive criticism.

We do not claim that we have got everything right or that there are no problems to overcome. But this is hardly a surprise. It was never going to be possible to turn a country with no democratic institutions or culture into a Jeffersonian democracy in two decades.

What is important is the direction of travel. Kazakhstan remains committed to a democratic path. We are a moderate, tolerant, liberal, secular Muslim-majority state that seeks to promote peace and stability in Central Asia and the wider world, as well as maintaining good relations with major countries. This allows us to act as a bridge between East and West. Kazakhstan has very ambitious plans for growth into a modern, technologically advanced economy and viable democracy.

Kazakhstan has an impeccable nuclear disarmament record and has campaigned for almost twenty years for a safer nuclear world.

We have hosted two rounds of nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has called on Iran to follow Kazakhstan’s example and not to pursue nuclear weapons as Kazakhstan did 21 years ago.

Whilst we recognise the danger nuclear weapons hold, we remain committed to the development of peaceful nuclear energy. Kazakhstan plans to open the world’s first nuclear fuel bank and hopes to conclude related negotiations with the IAEA by the end of 2013.

Energy security remains an important topic for Kazakhstan and our Western partners. Kazakhstan is an important contributor to international energy security, as a reliable oil supplier, host of the nuclear fuel bank and a partner committed to alternative energy development.

Kazakhstan aims to be in the world’s top 30 economies by 2050. We aim to produce 50% of our energy from renewable resources by 2050, which represents a massive investment opportunity for Western technology and innovation.

As part of Kazakhstan’s drive on renewable energy, our capital, Astana has won an important bid to host EXPO 2017 with the theme of “Future Energy.”

EXPO 2017 in Astana is the centrepiece of Kazakhstan’s green revolution. Its construction offers huge opportunities for British companies and it will provide a showcase for British energy technology.

The rapid growth of Kazakhstan’s economy and increased spending power of the population also opens up new possibilities for UK businesses in the consumer market.

Working with the UK and other international partners, Kazakhstan will continue to drive Central Asia and Afghanistan on the path of stability and economic development.

The future for Kazakhstan-UK relations remains bright. Our relationship has delivered great benefits for both sides, particularly in the energy sector but there are bigger prospects for the future.

We look forward to continuing to cooperate with Britain on security, investment and trade and wholeheartedly welcome the visit by Prime Minister David Cameron to Kazakhstan.

The author is the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan.

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