Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are players that have supported each other in various fields for many years, have trade agreements and play an important role in ensuring stability in the region. Due to the bilateral relations that have developed in recent years, both countries are striving to find common ground in the construction of the Kambarata HPP-1 power plant and in the fields of renewable energy. In addition, the expansion of trade is another important topic.
Therefore, the Ankara Centre for Crisis and Political Studies (ANKASAM) presents the views of CABAR.asia editor Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nargiza Murataliyeva to assess the development of trade volume and the future of political relations between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
1-What specific strategiesand measures can be implemented to effectively develop bilateral trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, taking into account the goal of increasing the volume of trade between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to $2 billion?
Kazakhstan is one of the three most important trading partners of Kyrgyzstan. According to the National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, trade turnover between the two countries amounted to about $1.1 billion in 2022. At the same time, economic relations between the two countries have not yet solved the problems of the border crossing regime for carriers and suppliers from Kyrgyzstan. The problem of corruption and smuggling at the border, as well as traffic congestion, persists. Therefore, a strategy to reduce bureaucracy and increase transparency is a priority for the two countries. This could include simplifying procedures and reducing administrative barriers to trade, as well as automating customs processes, which could significantly improve the efficiency and transparency of trade operations.
In addition, the construction of an industrial trade and logistics complex near the Ak-Tilek and Kara-Su road checkpoints could help boost trade. Based on this complex, projects in dairy production, meat, fruit and berry processing, canned beans, pharmaceuticals and garment production would be implemented.
At the institutional level, business relations between the two countries are developing thanks to the Kyrgyz-Kazakh Chamber of Commerce, established in 2022. This chamber of commerce will promote cooperation in the fields of energy, engineering, finance, food industry and agro-industry. This year, a forum was organised for entrepreneurs from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where businessmen reviewed products for export and import.
2. How do the historical and geographical relations between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan contribute to the development of multilateral cooperation, especially in the political, economic and cultural spheres?
It is well known that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan not only have a long history of nomadic traditions and a similar cultural background. The two countries were part of the Soviet Union, which led to the development of irrigation and energy links. The common border allows for intensive trade, cultural exchange and people-to-people contacts. Their geographical location provides natural connections and opportunities for transport and transit routes. Kazakhstan is also a promising destination for Kyrgyz migrants due to its historical and geographical connections. About 30,000 Kyrgyz citizens work in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have a common interest in maintaining stability and security in the Central Asian region. They actively cooperate within the framework of regional and international organisations such as the Organisation of Turkic States (OSTS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to solve common problems and find common positions on important issues. In 2022, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signed the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation for the Development of Central Asia in the 21st Century at the 4th Consultative Meeting in Cholpon Ata, which shows the convergence of these countries’ positions, including historical and geographical ties.
3. What key challenges or obstacles might Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan face in deepening their inter-state and inter-parliamentary relations and how can these challenges be effectively addressed?
One of the main challenges in Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan relations is the issue of water allocation, especially in an environment of worsening climatic challenges and droughts. It was recently announced that Kazakhstan plans to amend the agreement with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan on the use of the resources of the Seyhun River Basin by the end of 2023. For Kyrgyzstan, this is an issue that attracts the attention not only of the political elite but also of the public. This year and last year, both countries had problems with access to irrigation water, and this year even the capitals of the two countries had problems with drinking water.
The second problem, which has not been solved for more than three decades, is persistent competition. Kyrgyz lorry companies are systematically stuck in traffic jams at the border with Kazakhstan. This was an important impetus to push forward negotiations with China on the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line. Also this year, Kyrgyzstan began testing the new multimodal transport corridor that “bypasses” Kazakhstan. This includes a land link from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as a shipping line from the port of Turkmenbashi across the Caspian Sea to the Russian cities of Astrakhan and Makhachkala. These corridors will help to significantly reduce Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on Kazakhstan for transit and logistics.
Another issue that has been raised within the EEU is smuggling from China to EEU countries. From year to year, statistics on the import of Chinese goods differ between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (this applies to Chinese statistics as well as to Kyrgyzstan’s and Kazakhstan’s statistics). This shows that the problem of imports of “grey” goods persists.
Another point can be seen as a shadow of the differences in the states’ governance models. The political elites of Kazakhstan, especially under Nazarbayev, were afraid of the “colour revolutions” in Kyrgyzstan. Thus, before the January 2022 events in Kazakhstan, the state media argued that it was important to maintain stability in Kazakhstan in the face of political unrest in Kyrgyzstan.
4. Can you give examples of recent cultural and humanitarian initiatives or projects that have strengthened relations between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and what impact have these initiatives had on the two societies?
An important event during President Tokayev’s visit to Kyrgyzstan last year was the opening of a representative office of the Al-Farabi National State University of Kazakhstan in Bishkek. This institution plans to train personnel in sought-after specialisations in the fields of information technologies, mining, use of natural resources and the tourism industry. A monument to Abay Kunanbayoglu, poet, writer and founder of modern Kazakh literature, was also opened in Bishkek. Last year, Kazakhstan hosted the Kyrgyz Culture Days at a high level.
At the same time, Kazakhstan awards quotas for Kyrgyz citizens to study at leading institutions in Kazakhstan. This year, 50 quotas were awarded. According to the National Statistics Committee of Kyrgyzstan, about 3,000 students will study in Kyrgyzstan in 2022-2023
5. Given the strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, what potential areas of cooperation and joint initiatives are most promising for promoting regional stability and prosperity in Central Asia in the long term?
The most important project planned for cooperation between the three countries is the construction of Kambarata HPP-1. The roadmap for this project has been signed by Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The goal is to complete the feasibility study of the project by 2024. According to the preliminary agreements, a joint venture will be established to manage the HPP. Kyrgyzstan will hold 34 per cent of the shares, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan 33 per cent each, or 66 per cent of the shares. However, this is fraught with difficulties in terms of financing, conditions for the continued management of the hydropower plant and profit sharing. The real challenge, however, is how the parties will agree on water allocation in the face of growing climatic challenges.
Renewable energy is also an important area of cooperation between the two sides. Kazakh investors are planning to build a 50 MW solar power plant in the Issyk-Kul region at a total cost of $35 million.
A promising project to boost tourism is the construction of an alternative road to Almaty-Issyk-Kul, which will be about 280 kilometres long, shorter than the current 460 kilometres. In January 2021, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimated that the route, the short road would contribute $31-165 million per year to Kazakhstan’s GDP and $53-439 million to Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, depending on the routing.
The development of transport links, including roads and railways, is a key factor in strengthening regional stability and economic cooperation. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan can work together to develop transport corridors, improve borders and simplify procedures for the movement of goods to enable more efficient movement of people and goods in the region.
Assoc. Prof Nargiza Murataliyeva
Nargiza Murataliyeva is a PhD in Political Sciences, Associate Professor. In 2010, she defended his dissertation on “Russia and China’s Regional Policy in Central Asia and the SCO as a factor of Interaction”.Muratalieva worked as an editor at CABAR.asia (Central Asia Analytical Reporting Bureau), a project of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Author of the monograph “Russia and China in Central Asia”, co-author of about 10 monographs, author of more than 50 analytical articles in online and peer-reviewed publications. Areas of specialisation: Geopolitics and regional cooperation in Central Asia and regional security issues.