Central Asian Countries Expand Trade with New Transport Corridors

ASTANA — Kazakhstan is poised to become a key player in shaping the future of Eurasian trade and transport by prioritizing infrastructure development and strengthening cooperation with regional partners, reported Kazinform on March 13 in an article about the development of cargo transportation logistics in Central Asian countries.

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New transport routes

Central Asian countries are set for a major transformation in their logistics as plans to create new transport corridors gain momentum. Among the key ones is the China-Kyrgyz Republic-Uzbekistan railway for multimodal freight transport, which will be an important milestone in developing regional connections and trade facilitation.

Two additional routes are being developed to advance this initiative. The first route is directed towards Europe, while the second route is directed towards the south. The route south, starting from Bishkek through the Dostuk checkpoint in the Osh region, will pass through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan before crossing the Caspian Sea by ferry to the port of Olya in the Astrakhan region of Russia. The transit of goods from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan will be carried out through the Farap-Alyat Uzbek checkpoint, a strategically important point in this emerging transport corridor.

Director of the Ma’No Center of Research Initiatives of Uzbekistan, Bakhtiyor Ergashev, noted the key role of Turkmenistan in promoting regional connections, especially in the creation of the Trans-Iranian corridor from Uzbekistan to Iran. 

As the security situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, Ergashev emphasizes the strategic importance of alternative routes, including the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran corridor. 

Turkmenistan’s position as a gateway to Turkish seaports and the Mediterranean Sea via the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), or the Middle Corridor, speaks to its importance in promoting regional trade and economic integration.

Given its geographical limitations on access to the Caspian seaport, Tajikistan may also benefit from these developments. The synergy between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan in developing transport corridors in the southern direction opens up enormous prospects for strengthening regional ties and unlocking economic opportunities.

Logistics strategy of Kazakhstan

For Kazakhstan, developing transport corridors in the southern direction represents a strategic imperative, especially in terms of facilitating the transportation of Kazakh grain to Afghanistan in the Turkmenistan direction. As Kazakhstan becomes the largest economy in the region, optimizing transport corridors is intended to strengthen regional trade and economic integration.

In his state-of-the-nation address in September 2023, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev outlined an ambitious vision for Kazakhstan to strengthen its position as a key transit hub in Eurasia, which will ultimately emerge as a powerful transport and logistics power. In his message, the President emphasized the strategic importance of using the country’s geographic advantage at the intersection of world trade routes to stimulate the development of the transport and logistics industry.

“The dynamic development of the transport and logistics sector is a strategic imperative,” said Tokayev, emphasizing the need to increase the sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) to at least 9% over the next three years, compared to the current 6.2%.

To achieve this goal, Kazakhstan intends to begin implementing several transformative transport projects to strengthen transport connectivity and facilitate the smooth movement of goods across the region.

Expanding the Dostyk-Moiynty railway line and constructing new sections such as Bakhty-Ayagoz and Darbaza-Maktaaral will strengthen ties with neighboring countries, notably China and Uzbekistan. In addition, the country plans to build a railway bypass around Almaty to reduce congestion and improve efficiency.

The volume of transportation along TITR ncreased by 86%, reaching 2.8 million tons, up from 1.5 million in 2022. This is a substantial increase compared to just 586,000 in 2021. Photo credit: The Astana Times

The Middle Corridor is the cornerstone of Kazakhstan’s logistics strategy, providing a direct connection between China and Europe. The President emphasized the need for joint efforts with partner countries such as Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, and Türkiye to boost the route’s potential. Agreements have been signed with Azerbaijan and Georgia, demonstrating concerted efforts to strengthen regional ties and trade facilitation.

On March 11, President Tokayev and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev participated in the ceremony marking the arrival of a container train that will be traveling from Xi’an to Absheron along the TITR in 11 days. 

To diversify access to sea routes, Kazakhstan is also prioritizing the development of the International North-South Transport Corridor, which provides access to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. There are plans to begin modernizing the Kazakh section of the Bolashak-Chelyabinsk railway line, paving the way for expanded connections and trade opportunities.

Another important direction is the development of comprehensive maritime infrastructure with an emphasis on turning the Kuryk port into a full-fledged logistics center similar to Aktau. Plans are also being developed to create a container hub in Aktau, expanding Kazakhstan’s maritime capabilities.

In addition to rail and maritime infrastructure, Kazakhstan seeks to strengthen its aviation and highway networks. Airports in key cities need to be transformed into multimodal centers providing efficient logistics services.

At the same time, measures are being taken to address shortcomings in the highway sector, including strict regulations and enhanced oversight to ensure timely and quality road construction. Kazakhstan is preparing to undertake a comprehensive reconstruction effort, with plans to reconstruct more than 4,000 kilometers of highways by 2029. 

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