Estonia Hopes to Increase Cooperation in Transit, Technology, Education

New NATO Contact Point Hopes to Share Alliance’s Values in Central Asia, Increase Bilateral Trade

ASTANA – As NATO Contact Point in Kazakhstan, Ambassador of Estonia Jaan Reinhold hopes to share the values of the alliance in the country; bilaterally, the ambassador is hoping to see an increase in educational, technological and scientific exchanges during his mission here, as well increase agricultural and transit cooperation.

Jaan Reinhold

Jaan Reinhold

“The EU is currently reviewing the EU’s Central Asia strategy, and I guess we have to do the same about NATO, about NATO’s role in Central Asia and further joint activities,” he said. Undoubtedly, Kazakhstan, as a member of the Partnership for Peace Programme, is an important partner for NATO in the region, Reinhold added.

This public diplomacy – in the form of lectures, conferences and briefings on NATO’s activities and values – will be directed toward representatives of Kazakhstan’s defence services, of course, the ambassador said, but also to the general public, particularly through universities and clubs like the Academic Diplomatic Club at the Kazakh National Humanitarian Law University.

Bilaterally, transit is generating major buzz, with the head of the Port of Tallinn commenting earlier this month that they would like to be a transit point for cargo shipped from China to Europe via Kazakhstan. The main issue is the opportunity to create synergy between the Silk Road and former Hanseatic League countries along the Baltic Sea, Reinhold said.

The Port of Tallinn is currently operating below its capacity, he commented, which is driving interest in shipping from Kazakhstan. “The main obstacle to that is higher tariffs for railway cargo transportation via Russia to Baltic states, but at the end of the day, the reloading and warehousing in our ports is safe, smooth and well-organised, and so could be beneficial for the Kazakh side. … We are also offering many other investment opportunities for Kazakhstan,” he said.

Estonia-Kazakhstan relations generally are dynamic, the ambassador said, with high-level visits and a bilateral governmental commission on economic affairs established in 2010. They are currently waiting for the appointment of new co-chairman of this commission by the Kazakh side, Reinhold noted, saying he hopes later this year the commission will hold a working session in Tallinn.

The 2014 agreement between the two countries on mutually promoting and protecting investments “definitely gave us more confidence to work together,” the ambassador said.

Most recently, in February, a business delegation led by former Estonian President Arnold Rüütel came to the Kazakh capital. While it is too early to determine the exact outcome of the visit, Reinhold says the Estonian side were very satisfied and that they hope to meet and follow up with potential partners soon.

“From the embassy’s point of view, we would also like to intensify cooperation in education and science, as well as tourism and culture,” Reinhold said. In education, the ambassador would like to ramp up activities with the two Estonian universities that are on the Bolashak scholarship list, he said. They would also like to send more lecturers to Kazakhstan. “We are offering courses for the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Kazakhstan; they are bringing their students or post graduates to Estonia, to the Estonian Diplomatic School and others. We would like to show [our Kazakh partners] Estonia`s model of state administration and they are really interested,” he said.

Another area of Estonian expertise the country is eager to share is in e-governance and e-services, Reinhold said. “Using e-services, we are saving about 2 percent of our gross domestic product in administration costs. I believe it is relevant also for Kazakhstan as well, to provide better online and other services to its citizens, not only to save their time but also to reduce bureaucracy and reduce administrative costs.” Most government services in Estonia are internet-based, he noted, including parliamentary voting, and the Estonia E-Academy is ready to share their experiences and technology with Kazakhstan, which is in the midst of a push to modernise and streamline its government processes.

Though Estonia is much smaller than Kazakhstan, it can be geographically important, and it also has high technology, particularly information technology and cyber security, to offer its partners, Reinhold said. On a visit to Kazakhstan’s Mazhilis last year, the ambassador was surprised to learn that Kazakhstan’s first steps toward e-governance followed Estonia’s example. He noted that 85 percent of public services in Estonia are available online, and for enterprises the figure is 100 percent. His country’s e-governance infrastructure, digital medical prescriptions, e-police, e-tax and e-customs board, among others, are studied or copied by countries across Europe and beyond, he said.

“What I think is our advantage, in Estonia and other Baltic states, is that we can speak relatively good Russian; we can understand recent Kazakh history and they can understand us, and these connections are still very rich and very good,” the ambassador said.

However, when it comes to connections between the two countries’ unions, the European Union and the new Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the ambassador says it is too early to predict what form they may take. “It is a fact that some [EAEU] signatory members are not members of the WTO [World Trade Organisation], which doesn’t make the predicting game any easier.” Estonia supports Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO, he said, and recognises that Kazakhstan is close to the end of that process.

“From a bilateral point of view, I think we have to contribute to the bilateral trade and economic relations between the EU and Kazakhstan. Kazakh investors are very welcome in Estonia and in the European Union and the recent trade shows the growth of our business interest in Kazakhstan in particular sectors. … I think we cannot stop these trends despite one or another parallel developments,” he said.

There is still work to be done bilaterally, to open the doors to Estonian investors and joint work, Reinhold said. “The business climate in general is a very important issue. If there are some improvements, the investors and traders will come, definitely.” EXPO 2017 can make the country more attractive, he said. “[B]ut there is still, from my point of view, a lack of information about EXPO 2017. I know that the [expo] commissioner is paying visits to countries and I hope that very soon he is able to visit the Baltic states.” After that, Estonia will be able to make its decision.

Other incentives would also be helpful, Reinhold said. He praised the initiative last summer of eliminating short-term visa requirements for 10 countries with major investments in Kazakhstan – but pointed out that smaller countries with smaller economies were left out. “I hope personally that they will continue and enlarge this pilot project, by, for example, member states of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development]. … Then we’ll have an opportunity as well. Please open the gates for us and then we will come to investigate how to invest, in which sectors. … Open the doors and we will come in.”

Reinhold pointed out that Estonia only opened an embassy in Astana in 2011. “We’ve quite recently come here, so there is a lot to discover,” he said.

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