In an interview with this newspaper, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Erzhan Kazykhanov spoke about the opportunities in bilateral relations following the presidential election in Kazakhstan, as well as about the relations with the European Union.
On Feb. 15, you presented your credentials to Queen Elizabeth II, thus, officially assuming the office of Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Kingdom. How would you describe the current state of Kazakh-British relations?
Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom are strategic partners. This is no surprise, given the importance of the two countries: Kazakhstan as a leading country in Central Asia and Britain being one of the most powerful forces in the European Union.
Both countries have shown good economic growth in recent years and have carried out effective socio-economic policies. This has worked to strengthen the relationship between our two states and our shared understanding on important international issues.
The leaders of our countries have regular meetings, both during official visits and on the sidelines of international forums. For example, Prime Minister Cameron and President Nazarbayev met in October last year in Milan at the 10th Asia-Europe Summit. And at the end of April, Prime Minister Cameron was one of the first leaders to congratulate our head of state on his victory in the presidential election.
Cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom contributes to the strengthening and expansion of our institutional ties. Last year, for example, the Intergovernmental commission on trade, economic and investment cooperation opened and the Kazakh-British Business Council was established. Existing structures such as the Kazakh-British Trade and Industry Council, the British-Kazakh Society and the British-Kazakh Bar Association also play a significant role in strengthening bilateral relations.
Business and financial links between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom are flourishing. I am pleased to note that Britain is one of the three largest investors in Kazakhstan. In the last 10 years, the U.K. has invested more than $10 billion in Kazakhstan.
In 2012, Britain designated Kazakhstan one of 14 priority countries in the development of trade relations and appointed a special trade envoy to our country. Kazakhstan included Britain on its list of six priority countries for attracting investments and opened up a visa-free travel scheme for U.K. citizens.
Today, our cooperation priorities are being expanded in light of the new economic initiatives proposed by President Nazarbayev in his inaugural speech.
A key part of the President’s strategy is increasing cooperation with states with advanced economies, including the U.K.. In practice, this means making every effort to attract the best British technology we can. By attracting investments, we help the economy, hence deepening relations between the U.K. and Kazakhstan
The U.K. is a global financial and economic centre. In your opinion, what are the prospects for cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom in this area?
Britain’s role as a global financial and economic centre is very important to us. The U.K.’s robust financial market, its maturity and openness make it a highly desirable location for international business.
As you would expect, this has attracted Kazakhstan’s attention. We are actively working to develop the domestic financial system and transform Almaty into a regional financial hub. We are particularly interested in the history of the City of London’s financial sector and how it developed its unique status in the world of finance and its related legislation. We are looking for ways to support international businesses in Kazakhstan.
President Nazarbayev has also spoken about establishing a financial centre in Astana with a special status aimed at developing the financial services sector and attracting foreign investments.
Another area for prospective cooperation is the development of Islamic finance in Kazakhstan. Britain is a world leader in this field and we intend to use its experience and knowledge in developing infrastructure to support Islamic finance in our own country.
While the financial sector is of course very important, we are also interested in cooperating with the United Kingdom in other areas. Closer ties regarding technology and innovation will help us meet the goals and objectives of the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy and the Nurly Zhol economic programme.
We are working to shift the focus of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom away from the extractive sector towards industrial production, engineering, the high-tech sector and the expansion of the green economy.
This is already producing positive results. Last year, a permanent subgroup on mining was created, consisting of 70 British and Kazakh companies working together on joint technology projects. Thanks to their work, more than 30 joint projects have been implemented and another 60 are under consideration.
In November last year, the eighth Kazakh-British Forum on Logistics took place in one of the U.K.’s most historic industrial centres, Manchester. During the forum, joint ventures for the production of oil and gas and other process equipment were discussed.
More recently, during Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov’s visit to London, two important bilateral economic institutions, the British Chamber of Commerce in Astana and the Business Council between the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund and the U.K. Agency for Trade and Investment began cooperation. Furthermore, the Union of Machinists of Kazakhstan and the British Association of Manufacturing Technologies agreed on a plan for joint cooperation.
The upcoming exhibition EXPO 2017 in Astana will provide a great opportunity to increase the scope of cooperation. Given the large innovation and industrial potential of the U.K., we hope to agree on major new deals on the use of innovative green energy technologies.
Many Kazakh students study at universities in the U.K.. How do our countries cooperate when it comes to education?
First and foremost, one of the key priorities of our cooperation is to equip Kazakh students with the skills needed to embark upon successful careers.
This is not surprising, because primarily, British universities are recognised as world leaders in technology and engineering, as well as finance, law and IT.
Second, the British education system specialises in developing skills that are relevant to the 21st century and the current labor market. It therefore makes sense for our young people to choose the U.K. for study.
Currently, more than 3,500 Kazakh students are enrolled in academic programmes in the U.K.; about 800 of them are on Bolashak scholarships. We are also working to ensure that our students gain valuable work experience in British companies, including those that specialise in trade with Kazakhstan. This will allow them not only to obtain theoretical knowledge, but also practical skills and experience that can later be used to benefit our country.
Education for Kazakh students in Britain is not the only area of cooperation; we are also inviting British teachers to live and work in Kazakhstan. One successful project is the ongoing collaboration between Nazarbayev University and universities in the U.K. including Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Economics.
We believe that it is the right time to open departments of the U.K.’s leading universities in Kazakhstan, making it possible for students to earn double diplomas.
Cooperation and partnership between Kazakhstan and the U.K. is becoming increasingly focused on science and research, a trend we hope to see develop further in the future.
The Newton-Al-Farabi partnership programme is designed to promote research in areas such as energy, health, agriculture and ecology and is an important step in this direction.
As you mentioned, the United Kingdom is one of the key players in the European Union. In this context, what are the general prospects for cooperation between our country and the European Union?
Cooperation between Astana and Brussels has always been one of Kazakhstan’s most important foreign policy priorities.
The EU remains Kazakhstan’s largest trading and investment partner, despite our expanding links with other regions around the world. EU-Kazakhstan trade accounts for almost half of Kazakhstan’s foreign trade and 50 percent of our foreign direct investment. Kazakhstan is the EU’s largest trade partner in Central Asia.
About 6,000 companies are operating in our country with European investments. Among them are global leaders such as Siemens, EADS, Eurocopter, Talgo, Areva, British Gas, Total, Eni and Shell. Almost all of them are members of an important institution, the Foreign Investors Council under the President of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan and the EU cooperate within a strong institutional framework. Regular meetings between the Cooperation Committee of Kazakhstan and EU are held. There are also subcommittee groups on justice and security, as well as trade, investment, energy and transport.
Just as with Britain, we are interested in exploring deeper cooperation with EU member states in areas such as technology. This will allow us to quicken the pace of Kazakhstan’s economic modernisation. We are actively developing a range of programmes with France, Germany, Italy and Spain and looking forward to expanding innovation and technological relations with other European countries.
Cooperation will receive a major boost following the signing of the Expanded Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Kazakhstan and the EU. This agreement, which has already been initialed, has the potential to give strong impetus to the expansion of political and economic relations and to ensuring long-term Kazakhstan-European cooperation.