Estonian Prime Minister’s visit to Kazakhstan focuses heavily on digital agenda

ASTANA – Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas paid a Nov.5-6 official visit to Kazakhstan for the first time. He was invited to take part in the Digital Bridge Forum and the presentation of the Astana Hub – International IT and Startup Hub.

Photo credit: Akorda Press.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed prospects for strengthening cooperation between Kazakhstan and Estonia in the field of digitisation, innovative technologies, the development of trade and economic relations with Ratas during their Nov. 6 meeting in Akorda.

Nazarbayev, stressing the rich experience of Estonia in the field of digital technologies, thanked Ratas for his personal participation in the launch of the Astana Hub – International IT and Startup Hub.

The Kazakh President pointed out the need to increase trade relations between the two countries and focused on the priority areas for the development of economic cooperation. Thus, he spoke about the infrastructure programmes being implemented in the country, the facilities being built within their frameworks and the results of projects to increase transit and transport potential. Nazarbayev also noted the importance of establishing cooperation in manufacturing and agricultural, pharmaceuticals and other sectors of the economy.

In turn, Ratas thanked Nazarbayev for the hospitality provided and shared his impressions of Astana.

“This is my first visit to Kazakhstan. It is possible to see how your country is developing in the infrastructural facilities of Astana,” the head of Estonian government said.

Ratas expressed interest in implementing joint projects in the field of digitisation and the transport and logistics field, as well as in expanding investment cooperation.

The Estonian Prime Minister also noted the promising job opportunities of the Astana Hub.

“I see a strong political will of the government of Kazakhstan, together with the private sector, to work more differentially with the modern economic model. In this direction, constant support is required. The Estonian economy also goes through a process of transformation from a labour-intensive industry to a capital-intensive one. With rapid technological change and ever-expanding globalisation, we must adapt to competitiveness in the global market. Estonian companies are very interested in cooperation with Kazakhstan,” Ratas added.

The same day, Estonian Prime Minister Ratas also met with speakers of both the Senate and the Mazhilis of Parliament Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Nurlan Nigmatulin to discuss inter-parliamentary cooperation.

Tokayev expressed interest in establishing closer ties with the Estonian Parliament and offered to exchange visits of legislative delegations. Nigmatulin stressed the importance of sharing legislative experience, speaking about strengthening the interaction between parliamentarians of both countries.

During a Nov.5 meeting with Ratas, Kazakh Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev discussed expanding of bilateral cooperation in information technologies and digitisation of education, health, trade, transport and logistics.

At the meeting, both prime ministers discussed cooperation in environmental and energy-saving technologies, including those based on the International Green Technologies and Investments Centre, implemented as part of the Green Bridge presidential initiative, and the cooperation prospects in agriculture and the automation of customs declarations.

Sagintayev noted plans to open an international IT university in Astana. In this regard, great importance is given to the exchange of experience in the training of IT specialists for the digital economy.

While welcoming about 120 business representatives of the two countries who participated in the business forum on Nov. 5, Prime Minister Sagintayev invited Estonian businesses to active cooperation and implementation of joint projects in various fields of economy, IT, logistics, investments, architecture, engineering, education and elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in particular, 3D printing, online trading, mobile banking, digital services, automation, robotisation, artificial intelligence and big data sharing.

“In terms of the investment climate, Kazakhstan now ranks first in Central Asia. Plus, Kazakhstan accounts for over 70 percent of the investment in Central Asia. Over the past 10 years, the country has attracted about $250 billion as foreign direct investment. We welcome investment in various sectors of our economy, especially in the development of manufacturing industry and non-resource exports,” the Kazakh prime minister said.

Estonia is one of the important trade, economic and investment partners of Kazakhstan in Northern Europe. Kazakhstan is interested in expanding trade, economic and investment relations with Estonia. In particular, it is interested in expanding cooperation in the transit-transport sphere, in the field of environmental and energy-saving technologies, as well as in the IT sphere.

In January-August 2018, trade turnover between Kazakhstan and Estonia amounted to $21.7 million. The gross inflow of direct investment from Estonia to Kazakhstan reached $70.2 million. More than 70 joint ventures with Estonian capital were registered in Kazakhstan. Kazakh exports to Estonia include petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excluding crude oil), copper, refined and copper alloys, untreated aluminum, LED lamps, iron or steel products, as well as food products, such as flaxseeds, almonds and fresh melons.

Sagintayev said that according to the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2019 report, Kazakhstan ranked 28th in terms of ease of doing business and entered the top 30 for the first time, having risen eight positions in one year.

Kazakhstan is a state with a predictable and favourable investment climate that implements trade policy in accordance with the norms of international law, he said. Optimised tax burdens and preferences are worked out. Simplified procedures for planning projects in the field of public-private partnerships are established. Improved migration and labour laws, simplified procedure for attracting foreign labour are part of trade policy. There are different preferences, eleven special economic zones and 22 industrial zones in Kazakhstan.

Sagintayev also told the forum participants about the work of the Astana International Financial Centre and invited Estonian companies to work together, including under the second wave of the privatisation programme.

The Astana Hub started its work in Kazakhstan Nov. 6, where all the opportunities and privileges for business promotion are created. Anyone who is willing to work on the startup hub area can already be registered. It is planned that Astana Hub will become a regional innovation centre for promoting technology initiatives.

“I am grateful to the Prime Minister of Estonia for the decision to formally participate in the presentation of the hub. At Astana Hub, [we] have changed our legislation, and there is an opportunity to work with us in Astana, not only for residents of Kazakhstan but also for foreign companies that are willing to participate and use the opportunities of this territory. We have eased work visa rules, established tax incentives, provided grant support and housing so that they could create here their own products, which will be in demand in various markets. I invite Estonian companies to actively consider Astana Hub as a platform for setting up own businesses. We are ready to create the most favourable conditions for your work,” the Kazakh Prime Minister added.

In turn, Ratas said that during the bilateral meeting various aspects of cooperation between the two countries were considered. These are issues of digitisation, education, agriculture.

“It should be noted how important our cooperation is. I hope that we can use this potential in the future. Kazakhstan is a huge country with a population of 18 million people, rich in oil fields and important trading links. Estonia is a small country with a population of 1.3 million people. [We have] a large number of forests and a strong hi-tech sector. However, despite these differences, we have many common interests. We have the opportunity to expand our bilateral economic relations in many areas: IT, transport, logistics, agriculture and environmental technology, as well as waste management. I’m sure this list will only expand over time,” Ratas said.

During the event, representatives of Kazakh Invest” National Company presented investment projects in Kazakhstan. In turn, the Enterprise Estonia investment agency presented the projects of the Estonian side.

“Prime Minister Ratas has proposed that we further increase cooperation in the agricultural sector. For now, we have given the appropriate instructions to our ministries to meet together and start negotiating. Perhaps, we will end up with signing the respective memorandum of cooperation for the development of our relations in the agricultural sector. We could also cover in it the issues of digitisation and the issues of supplying agricultural products to the countries of Europe,” Sagintayev said.

Speaking at the Digital Bridge International Innovation Forum, Sagintayev told about implementation of the Digital Kazakhstan programme.

“Definitely, Kazakhstan is presently focused squarely on the digital agenda, and the government is mainly aimed at implementing the programme that was adopted the very same day the year before. Prior to adopting such a programme, 10 years ago, we launched the programme for the transition of public services to digital format. As time passes, we begin realising that we should move beyond the confines of the provision of public services,” he said.

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