ASTANA – The European Union and Kazakhstan are strengthening bilateral cooperation opportunities in trade and investment, transport, energy, agriculture, travel, and education, said Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko at a Central Communications Service briefing on March 10.
Vassilenko outlined the ministry’s efforts in boosting investment exchanges and establishing business partnerships in recent years.
The EU has invested $160 billion in Kazakhstan, making it the largest investment partner. It is also the largest trading partner of the country.
“In the first nine months of 2022, the inflow of European investments increased by 10 percent and exceeded $8 billion. The EU accounts for approximately 30 percent of Kazakhstan’s foreign trade. In 2022, the volume of trade exceeded the 2021 figure by 27.6 percent, reaching $40 billion. These are record-high figures since Britain’s exit from the EU. The dynamic growth continues this year as well,” reported Vassilenko.
He noted that the visits of European Council President Charles Michel to Astana in October and of Josep Borrell, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, in November became significant milestones in the relationship between the EU and Kazakhstan, as the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations approached this year.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is now expected to visit this year, added Vassilenko, to further advance discussions on cooperation in rare earth metals and critical raw materials, among other things.
The EU-Kazakhstan cooperation is built on the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA), which entered into full force in March 2020 covering 29 areas of cooperation, including in the spheres of the economy, trade and investment, education and research, civil society and human rights, among others.
“Last year, our country launched cooperation in new areas such as rare earth metals, green hydrogen, batteries, transport and logistics potential development, and the diversification of commodity supply chains,” said Vassilenko.
Cooperation in the alternative energy sector
Large industrial projects with European partners represent another significant economic opportunity for both sides.
One of the large projects is the agreement with the Swedish-German company Svevind to install wind and solar power plants in west Kazakhstan. The project is worth 30-40 billion Euros ($32-42 billion) and will produce three million tons of green hydrogen starting from 2030, which will satisfy one-fifth of the EU’s needs for the product.
In addition, a $1.9 billion construction project of a one-gigawatt wind farm in the Zhambyl Region is expected to launch in 2026-2027 in cooperation with the French company Total Energies.
The launch of a 100-megawatt solar power plant by Goldbeck Solar GmbH in the Karaganda Region in 2019 represented an example of successful cooperation in the renewable energy sector.
These efforts are part of Kazakhstan’s plans to transition to carbon neutrality by 2060.
More than 3,000 European companies operate in various sectors of Kazakhstan’s economy, including Shell, Eni, Total, Amazonen-Werke, Air Liquide, Alstom, and Carlsberg.
“As of today, there are already concrete agreements in place with large companies from the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Denmark, and the Czech Republic to either open new production facilities in Kazakhstan or to relocate their regional offices,” added the deputy foreign minister alluding to the companies exiting Russia in light of the western sanctions on Moscow launched last year after the beginning of the military conflict in Ukraine.
Vassilenko stated European partners have a keen interest in promoting all forms of bilateral cooperation with Kazakhstan facilitated by its multivector foreign policy, as the country prepares to host the Astana International Forum on June 8-9.
“A number of European countries have already expressed interest in taking an active part in its work at the level of heads of state, governments, large transnational companies, and academia. We anticipate a large number of European guests,” said the deputy foreign minister.
Developing alternative trade routes
Creating alternative routes and exploiting Kazakhstan’s transport and logistical potential is also a promising area for cooperation between Europe and Kazakhstan.
“The geographic location of Kazakhstan at the junction of Europe and Asia has predetermined the strategic development of the transport and logistics sector in our country,” said Vassilenko.
One of the emerging routes that could reconfigure the patterns of trade connecting China and Europe is the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also known as the Middle Corridor.
According to Vassilenko, the volume of cargo transported along the Middle Corridor increased 2.4 times last year, totaling 1.3 million tons.
“The results of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) study on the technical feasibility and assessment of this route are expected to be presented in May on the margins of the second Central Asia-EU Economic Forum in Almaty. After that, we hope to launch joint projects with the EU and other interested partners as soon as possible,” said the deputy foreign minister.
These assessments would provide an accurate estimate of the infrastructure that needs to be developed to overcome bottlenecks along the TITR, both in Kazakhstan and other countries along the route, such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye.
The government aims to develop ports and transport links along the Caspian coast to boost logistic activity in an effort to recreate the Great Silk Road.
“We are discussing the expansion of the two Caspian ports of Aktau and Kuryk. To boost the potential of the transportation corridors, we intend to create cross-border hubs. There is a task to create domestic shipbuilding production. There is also a need to build our own ferry fleet,” said Vassilenko.
Facilitating EU visa procedures
The Foreign Ministry is working towards facilitating the process of obtaining Schengen visas for Kazakh citizens.
Kazakhstan is in discussions with the EU to launch the negotiations on the visa facilitation for Kazakh citizens. When asked what such a facilitation may mean, he said it typically relates to reducing the cost of the visa, the number of documents required to obtain them, and the time required to review applications.
“We understand that one of the key indicators of the Foreign Ministry’s work is the expansion of visa-free space for our citizens. Last year, we signed agreements on mutual visa exemption with Albania and Andorra. We have a similar agreement with Serbia, and a seasonal visa-free regime applies to our citizens going to Montenegro,” said Vassilenko.
Last year, direct flights were also launched from Almaty to Milan and the Greek city of Iraklion.