Kazakhstan’s foreign trade turnover grew 2.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020 reaching $21 billion, said Kazakh Minister of Trade and Integration Bakhyt Sultanov at a selective government meeting on May 12 chaired by Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin.
The first four months, however, showed a significant downturn in domestic trade. The volume index of trade declined by 8.9 percent over the same period in 2019 and by 34.8 percent in April alone. Sultanov cited lockdown measures as the main reason behind the slowdown.
“Almaty alone accounts for 40 percent of the total trade figure. The lockdown and the closure of the Kazakh and Chinese border, coupled with the suspension of the Khorgos international trade center led to a large trade slowdown among the regions between January and April,” he said.
Sultanov urged government officials to pay special attention to infrastructure development.
“We need to start building wholesale distribution centers and accelerate further modernization of trade markets. State programs will ensure the expansion of long-term financing instruments, a reverse scheme with retail chains and forward purchases and e-commerce development,” said Sultanov.
Though the lockdown measures forced many shops to close, people adapted by buying online more.
They bought 2.8 million parcels from local online retailers worth 89 million tenge (US$211,790).
“For example, in Almaty, during quarantine, online sales grew 4 times over. More than 50,000 citizens purchased what they needed without breaking self-isolation,” said Sultanov.
E-commerce also promotes the growth of exports to international platforms. The School of Online Exporters selected 50 domestic companies that will be assisted in bringing their goods to Alibaba.
Kazakhstan’s exports at the same time increased by 4.2 percent, while imports showed a slight decline of 0.1 percent.
“The pandemic taught us a real lesson: that we need to facilitate the growth of non-oil exports. This will open new channels with stable foreign demand given the general decrease of export activity,” said the minister.
He assured the business community that support will continue for export-oriented enterprises, including the reimbursement of transport costs. 7.7 billion tenge (US$18.3 million) was allocated for this purpose and currently, 20 applications have been approved worth 215 million tenge (US$511,627) to export oil seeds, flour, confectionery, and protective clothing to China, Russia, Belgium, and Latvia.
“We have prioritized 16 products and we will bring new strategies for their development and promotion to new markets. Since the beginning of this year, 39 Kazakh exporters received financial assistance from the Kazakh Export Company and 26 of those received insurance support of more than six billion tenge (US$14.3 million) during the state of the emergency,” said Sultanov.