ASTANA – Kazakhstan is a key business partner for the Czech Republic in Central Asia, Rudolf Hykl, the Czech Ambassador in Astana, said in an exclusive interview for this story as he shared details of more business missions and official engagements planned for 2023 to expand bilateral ties.
In turn, the Czech Republic is Kazakhstan’s important trading partner in the European Union. The relations between the two countries have reached significant economic, political, and human milestones in the past 30 years. According to Czech statistics, bilateral trade has grown significantly – from $60 million in 1999 to $1.2 billion in 2022.
Kazakh-Czech еconomic and trade relations
Ambassador Hykl indicated that the Czech side strives to make the economic and trade agenda central in bilateral relations.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Kazakhstan works to address all elements of economic cooperation with special trade sections and experts who are facilitating exchanges in areas such as energy, heavy industry, mining, and agriculture.
“I must say that I engage in these activities myself personally because that is something which is key in our agenda. It is important to have a collaborative, expanding relationship, a meaningful process, which leads to a bilateral growth of trade and investment, rather than setting milestones,” Hykl said.
The structure of bilateral cooperation is evolving steadily. According to Ambassador Hykl, half of the Czech exports are electronics and computer-related products, with another portion comprising energy supplies and machinery. Kazakhstan primarily exports oil, iron, and other raw minerals such as phosphorus.
The embassy also fosters business-to-business contacts to increase economic engagement. It intends to organize several missions to the Czech Republic during the first half of 2023.
“In February, we are bringing Kazakhstan businessmen and farmers to the Czech Republic to demonstrate how fish breeding is conducted in our country. In the first part of this year, we will organize two business missions focused on energy and deep mining. We will also hold trade and tourism promotion events in Astana and Almaty. We are constantly working on various events,” said Hykl.
Kazakh and Czech joint ventures include a Kazphosphate enterprise, banking, and a few more in agriculture. The Czech Republic also provides ecologically important technologies for mining, energy, and petrochemical industries.
Ambassador Hykl mentioned the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Industrial, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation as one of the platforms for discussing economic ties between the two countries.
According to the diplomat, connectivity is another topic of long-term importance for the Czech Republic.
“We need alternative routes to get the supplies or commodities that are critical for us. However, we regard connectivity as important in a broader sense since it serves as the foundation for growth in other areas such as trade, tourism, and others. By connectivity, we mean not just physical connectivity but also connectivity in areas such as the digital world, financial collaboration, etc.,” said Hykl.
Green economy and green energy also play a significant role in the bilateral relationship.
“In terms of mitigating the effects of pollution and global warming, I believe we are, as a country, in a good position. The Czech Republic, for example, was a prominent partner in the major undertaking of the solar power station, which is not far from Karagandy. It was a large investment that was also co-financed by international partners. We participate in various projects involving heavy industry plants that are major polluters so that we not only ensure supplies for ourselves but also contribute to making Kazakhstan’s environment safe,” added Hykl.
Kazakh-Czech cultural and humanitarian еngagement
Cultural and humanitarian ties between the two countries are also growing fast. Among cultural events organized by the Czech Embassy in Almaty and Astana last year, Ambassador Hykl mentioned a large-scale and very successful Czech Film Festival, which brought seven great movies for Kazakh audiences to view.
The Poesiomat project, a technical device reproducing poems, fragments of literature, and music, is another initiative to strengthen cultural links between the two countries. It was presented last year by the еmbassy and the Kazakh National University of Arts.
Overall, the Czech ambassador characterized bilateral relations as friendly, encompassing a diverse range of areas of collaboration in which interpersonal interactions are crucial.
“We have very strong people-to-people contacts. Every year, thousands of tourists visit the Czech Republic. Hundreds of students are studying in the Czech Republic. Our country is well-known in Kazakhstan for its cultural aspects. And that is undoubtedly the outcome of decades of mutual interaction,” Hykl said.
The ambassador noted the Czech Embassy in Astana had resumed issuing Schengen visas in April 2022, the number of which is rapidly growing. Student visas have been issued for several years, and the numbers are reaching pre-pandemic levels.
Educational interaction occurs not only among students but also among faculty.
“Every time I visit regional centers, somebody from the faculty of the university we visit participated in an exchange program in the Czech Republic. I am always pleasantly surprised by how far into the past this connection among people goes,” Hykl said.
Ambassador Hykl underlined that people-to-people exchange happens at the level of ordinary citizens as well as among people who travel from Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic or vice versa.
“We also have visitors from the Czech Republic who come to Kazakhstan, usually as tourists, to see your two major cities, Astana and Almaty, as well as your beautiful scenic mountains in Almaty. So it is cultural knowledge, not necessarily large projects, that bring people together. I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by how much people know about our culture,” said Hykl.
Kazakhstan as a partner with huge potential
The ambassador, when asked, also addressed Kazakhstan’s reforms. Kazakhstan, he says, is a country with tremendous potential and has been for a long time.
“We believe Kazakhstan will be increasingly important in the long term not only because of its natural resources and size but also because of its human resources. The population is expanding, the quality of education is improving, and the country has accomplished many achievements due to the abilities of its citizens,” said the ambassador.
According to him, the Czech Republic sees Kazakhstan as a significant partner in Central Asia because the more successful the country and region are, the more beneficial the growth of bilateral economic opportunities will be.
“Whatever helps to advance the country in that direction with the reforms you mentioned, whether political, economic, or enhancing the business environment or improving educational levels and quality, is a part of it. It is something that gives the promise of more opportunities, more exchange, and better understanding. So I believe it is the wish not only of our country but also of the international community that Kazakhstan is prosperous, stable, and successful,” Hykl concluded.