ASTANA – Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, attended the World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Council session in Geneva on July 27 to sign the protocol on the nation’s accession to the world’s largest trade alliance. The accession came after talks lasting almost two decades to allow Kazakhstan to embrace global competition on beneficial terms.
“Kazakhstan will soon start operating under the WTO rules. However, we have been adjusting our economic policies for a long time in this direction by removing barriers, acting as an engine of regional integration and promoting the principles of open collaboration,” the Kazakh leader emphasised, according to the Akorda press service.
Director-General Roberto Azevêdo signed the Protocol on the Accession of Kazakhstan on behalf of the WTO, following the General Council’s approval of the Central Asian country’s WTO terms of entry.
“This is a truly historic occasion for Kazakhstan, and for the WTO. For Kazakhstan, this is recognition of the efforts you have made over recent years and your commitment to this process. It is an endorsement of the extensive programme of reforms, which you have undertaken,” he emphasised.
Azevêdo called the decision to join the WTO a “message to the world that Kazakhstan is open for business.”
“Kazakhstan’s accession adds an important voice to our discussions here. It brings the organisation closer to the heart of Central Asia. And it brings us closer to our goal of universal membership,” he said.
Nazarbayev expressed his appreciation of an “impressive job” on all sides following what he called a “very tough negotiation process.” He emphasised that during the negotiations with the WTO, Kazakhstan’s economy went through “dramatic” changes.
“Over the past years, we have come a long way in integrating Kazakhstan’s economy into the global market. We have implemented ambitious institutional reforms. They include further development of international economic cooperation. Effective implementation of the reforms will help to shape a brand new institutional environment,” Nazarbayev underlined.
According to the WTO press release, the negotiations on Kazakhstan’s membership were finalised by the Working Party on June 10. Kazakhstan’s WTO accession package was adopted by the 52 Working Party members through a referendum on June 22.
The Working Party Chairperson, Finish Ambassador Vesa Himanen, announced that during the course of the negotiations, Kazakhstan adopted 50 new laws and introduced amendments to 10 international agreements within the framework of the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).The progress in this area – overseen by President Nazarbayev and in close coordination with the EAEU partners – significantly helped accelerate the talks during the last year. “The package agreed with Kazakhstan is a high quality one, which makes a valuable contribution to enhancing access to markets and upgrading terms of multilateral trade systems, thereby strengthening the WTO”, Himanen said, according to the Akorda.
Nazarbayev pointed out that during the long period of talks with the WTO, Kazakhstan’s GDP per capita increased 18-fold and reached the levels of Central and Eastern Europe. The country’s external trade volume increased to $120 billion annually, of which more than 90% is with the WTO member states, he said.
“Kazakhstan is rich in mineral resources, and we intend to change the structure of our economy to remove the dependency on exporting raw materials. Today 54% of our GDP is linked to the services industry. It includes the financial sector, telecommunications, construction, energy and transport. Liberalisation of the financial services within the WTO will proceed in parallel with the process of establishing the Astana International Financial Centre. We hope that it will become a backbone of Kazakhstan’s financial infrastructure, and eventually a financial hub for the entire region. We invite all countries to participate in this project,” President Nazarbayev said.
He further highlighted the priority of developing infrastructure, transport and logistical services in Kazakhstan, including the construction of Western Europe – Western China road corridor and the Nurly Zhol (Path to the Future) policy of infrastructure projects.
“We work [hard] to become part of the global community. That is why we develop strategic corridors that will connect major markets. Our infrastructure projects will help maximise our unique transit potential – and that will be a big benefit for the country’s economy and international markets,” the President said.
Nazarbayev also emphasised his government’s efforts to enhance domestic conditions for luring more foreign investors.
“By improving the investment climate, we are now prioritising the diversification of our economy. All the necessary conditions are created for investments to go not only to the oil and gas and mining sectors, but also to the processing industries,” he said.
The President reminded that the WTO’s main principle was preventing discriminative measures in international trade.
“A policy of sanctions, which mixes economics with politics, impedes trade and does not correspond with WTO principles. I think our common goal is to prevent this from happening,” he said, referring to tensions between Russia and the West, which have affected economic growth in Eurasia since their introduction in mid-2014.
The President concluded his remarks by confirming readiness to further strengthen constructive cooperation with Kazakhstan’s international partners within the framework of the WTO.
Speaking to the media in Geneva, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov described the accession as “historic.”
“We have worked very hard. This has been a long and winding road,” Idrissov said, according to a report from Agence France Press.
“We believe that our membership will continue to help the process of economic reforms,” he told journalists, adding that diversification was Astana’s “top priority” and that the WTO membership can only enhance these efforts.
The country’s Minister for Economic Integration, Zhanar Aitzhanova, who led the accession talks in recent years, told reporters in Geneva that Astana had agreed to “continue to undertake full liberalisation reforms.” Crucially, this will apply to the telecommunications sector, where previous caps on foreign investment are to be abolished, the AFP highlighted.
Among international partners, the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, was among the early commentators to welcome the news.
“Kazakhstan has worked hard to prepare for the WTO membership and to make the changes needed in its domestic legal and regulatory system. The EU has strongly and continuously supported Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO and the country’s determination in its commitment to open trade and investment has been rewarded today,” she commented.
Kazakhstan’s legislators will now need to review and ratify the documents agreed in Geneva by 31 October 2015, the WTO press release said.