• A NEW QUALITY IN BRITISH-UZBEK RELATIONS
• UZBEKISTAN’S POLITICALLY PIVOTAL POSITION IN CENTRAL ASIA
• GREAT OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT
• SUCCESS STORIES: RIO TINTO,
BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO, TETHYS PETROLEUM
• UZBEKISTAN’S NEW SILK ROADS: TRANSPORT PROGRAMMES
• BRITISH-UZBEK COLLABORATIONS IN EDUCATION AND SCIENCE
• THE BRITISH-UZBEK SOCIETY
• THE UZBEK-BRITISH WOMEN’S FORUM
Compiled with support from the Embassy of Uzbekistan in London
I have followed Central Asian issues since soon after the creation of the independent states, just 22 short years ago, and it was to Tashkent I first forayed. Years march on and I remember well the occasion when I presented myself to the Uzbekistan Ambassador in London, Otabek Akbarov. He was keen to promote establishing bridges between the two parliaments, and to enhance the relationship between our countries on all areas of mutual interest. We both recognised the challenges, beyond the normal course of daily events, however the endeavours by all stakeholders have now resulted in a warm working relationship, with bilateral relations between our two countries having continued to grow to a point where real advances are being made on joint projects.
Uzbekistan is recognised as a strategically important partner for the UK in Central Asia, and a spirit of positive cooperation exists between the two countries. I have had an opportunity to call on the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, where he outlined his willingness to strengthen mutual understanding and expressed his vision of how to stabilise Afghanistan, underlining the importance he placed on the proposed ‘Six plus Three’ Group on Afghanistan (an informal coalition of the six nations bordering Afghanistan, plus the United States, Russia and NATO.) We also exchanged useful views on prospects on bilateral relations and the overall regional situation, with the geopolitical significance of Uzbekistan offering a range of opportunities for interaction at the heart of Central Asia.
Geo-strategic challenges certainly exist: trans-boundary upstream/downstream water management issues; industrial pollution; the imminent withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan and having to contend with the aftermath; demographic growth drawing on limited resources; hard-drug transit routes supplying northern and western markets and the disturbing trend of extremism. All of these issues have the potential to strain relationships, both domestically and throughout the region. These factors should not, however, undermine the positives: Uzbekistan’s trade opportunities, and its cultural, religious and historical tourism experiences, to name a few.
I wanted to highlight the important role that the parliaments of the two countries have played throughout this process. Those roles will, in my view, become increasingly more realised around the world, so with that in mind, I proposed and implemented two useful initiatives. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Group of the Oliy Majlis (Parliament) of Uzbekistan and the Britain-Uzbekistan All-Party Parliamentary Group on ‘Cooperation with the UK Parliament’ has been devised to address the desire to strengthen such cooperation, and a commitment to political, economic and social understanding and development.
Specific objectives range from broadening cooperation in the area of democratisation and effective governance, protection of human rights and ensuring rule of law, and working for regional security and stability, to considering questions of bilateral and regional interest. I recently had the opportunity to review the progress in Tashkent with Senator Sadik Safaev, my lead interlocutor, and we were satisfied that we are advancing on every provision included in the cooperation MOU.
A second exciting initiative set out to bring greater understanding of the workings of the UK Parliament and the Oliy Majlis. Working alongside the Hansard Society, a charity operating in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments, I created and produced a website entitled Parliament Revealed, with a series of films and articles which set out to explain how and why the British Parliament operates in the way that it does, by explaining the roles of parliamentary institutions, how laws are made and scrutinised, and the roles of representatives. While this had been on my mind for some time, it was in 2010 that President Karimov laid out his Concept of further deepening democratic reforms and establishing the civil society.
The lead video on the website, entitled ‘Parliament in 30 minutes’, can be viewed with Uzbek subtitles and will shortly contain Uzbek voice-over. (I wish to note my gratitude to the good offices of Westminster International University in Tashkent, which provided Uzbek and Russian subtitles together with technical support.) Going forward, the programme will provide films on the working mechanisms of the Oliy Majlis, in addition to other strategic global parliaments, including details of parliamentary business being conducted on a day-to-day basis. I have already had the opportunity to introduce the project to a number of institutions in Tashkent, including the Oliy Majlis, in addition to the regional parliament in Karakalpakstan region. A successor project is in the making that will address civil society with six themes: local government, judiciary, media, banking, NGOs and corporate governance.
Individual sector cooperation is ongoing beyond government levels. Alongside increasingly strong trade, this clearly evidences the positive state of the UK-Uzbek bilateral relationship – a relationship which I believe will only move from strength to strength.
Parliament Revealed can be viewed at
Opportunities for business and investment in Uzbekistan
An introduction by the Co-Chairman of the Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council, Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP
Uzbekistan occupies a geographically and politically pivotal position in Central Asia, so its own political stability has been of immense importance. It also has a significant role to play in the battles against both terrorism and drugs in the region. Above all, as a neighbour of Afghanistan it will be a key future player in maintaining regional stability and helping the country to reach a new equilibrium as the international coalition winds down its combat role.
There is no better way to turn people away from violence than to enable them to prosper through trade. Uzbekistan can play a particularly important part in stabilising Afghanistan by facilitating its participation in intra-regional trade both directly and through access to Uzbekistan’s transport infrastructure. A satisfactory resolution of regional disputes over water and pollution would open up possibilities for increased intra-regional trade between all the countries of Central Asia, to everyone’s benefit.
In recent years, Uzbekistan’s economy showed a high growth rate, proving its resilience in the face of the international financial crisis that has caused so many countries to suffer a prolonged downturn. The country can also be proud of the improvements in its health service provision – particularly in the area of maternal and child health – and in education. I am pleased that the British Council has been involved in the education sector for a number of years, and is now supporting work to implement the Government’s recent decisions to expand the teaching of foreign languages, including English. When I spoke at two Uzbek universities last year and met many of the students, I was impressed by their calibre, enthusiasm and energy, all of which bode well for the country’s future.
Britain and Uzbekistan have drawn closer in recent years and I very much hope that this rapprochement will continue. I know that Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Baroness Warsi, had an interesting and useful visit to Tashkent and Khiva in June. This, and a number of other bilateral visits, have shown that face-to-face contact is always the best way of moving our common interests forwards.
My particular interest is to promote more British investment in and trade with Uzbekistan. Britain is one of the largest international investors worldwide. For historical reasons, however, investments by UK companies in Central Asia have been limited. But this is changing. Already, over 100 British companies reportedly have operations within Uzbekistan. And experience across the world shows that the greater the level of investment, the greater the volume of two-way trade.
This month, London sees the 20th annual meeting of the Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council (UBTIC) that I have the honour of co-chairing with Uzbekistan’s Minister for Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade, Mr Elyor Ganiev. We hope the UBTIC meeting will boost interest across a broader range of companies in the prospects for investing in Uzbekistan. We look forward to interesting presentations from Uzbek partners spelling out the major opportunities created by Uzbekistan’s ambitious investment plans. I also hope to see greater involvement by British companies as contractors on major infrastructure projects in Uzbekistan, and a level of bilateral trade in goods and services to our mutual benefit. www.ubtic.org
SPOTLIGHT ON THE ECONOMY
As one of the 26 fastest growing countries in the world, DIPLOMAT highlights various opportunities for business and investment in Uzbekistan
As part of Uzbekistan’s 2013 Year of Wellbeing and Prosperity Programme, initiated by President Islam Karimov, the country is seeking to accelerate economic growth by attracting foreign investment. This summer, the country started airing a 35-second video entitled ‘Welcome to Uzbekistan’ on international television channels, describing its economic and tourism potential.
‘Uzbekistan has created and continues to create favourable conditions for foreign investors,’ said an Economic Ministry spokesman. ‘We have incentives formed to ensure that multinational companies and entrepreneurs coming here remain content and stay here a long time.’
Uzbekistan also plans to promote itself at several international investment forums and has invited groups of foreign business leaders to visit the country and discuss prospects for partnership. Indeed, this report is published during the same month that ministerial visits from Uzbekistan to the UK are taking place.
In 2012, HSBC’s Global Research Department published a report entitled ‘The World in 2050,’ in which Uzbekistan was placed in 11th place, among the 26 fastest growing countries in the world. It predicted that by 2050, Uzbekistan could become the world’s 51st largest economy with a GDP of US$314 billion. The report forecasts that Uzbekistan’s GDP growth between 2010-20 will be on average 8.2 per cent, in 2020-30 – 6.9 per cent, in 2030-40 – 6.1 per cent, in 2040-50 – 5 per cent, which will be the second rate in Asia after the Philippines.
In December 2012, Maplecroft, a UK consultancy firm which calculates the Index of Emerging Markets among 175 countries in terms of prospects for business, published its latest ranking for the most attractive long-term investment. They listed Uzbekistan as ranking among the top 20 countries.
In 2013, the Uzbek Government approved 47 new projects in various sectors of the economy which would cost a total of US$2.43 billion, including the offer of an industrial programme on developing and modernising for short-term perspectives.
According to the Government, the country is in the process of implementing over 300 investment projects between 2009-14 at a total cost of US$55.4 billion. The government plans to direct US$15.3 billion to the oil and gas sector and US$12.1 billion to oil and gas chemistry, US$7.2 billion to transport, US$5.8 billion to the energy sector and US$4.4 billion to the mining and metallurgy industry, among other investments. Around 50 per cent of this is foreign investment, 30 per cent the resources of private companies and 20 per cent from the Fund for Reconstruction and Development and banks of Uzbekistan.
In 2008, the Government established the Navoi Free Industrial Economic Zone (FIEZ), designed to stimulate foreign investment into the country and utilise its economic potential more effectively. The zone is located on 564 hectares next to the highway E-40 and the Navoi International Airport, which is deemed to be FIEZ’s most important factor of success. Starting operations in January 2009, the hub is managed by Korean Air, a world leader in air transportation and cargo.
Located along one of the world’s most important crossroads of automobile, railway and aviation routes, the Navoi International Airport connects Southeast Asia with Central and East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Regular flights connect Navoi to Asian and European metropolises such as Bangkok, Frankfurt, Milan, New Delhi and Singapore.
Undoubtedly, the union between the Navoi FIEZ and the international logistics centre at the airport enables income-generating manufacturing facilities to be established, and ready-made products delivered to world markets through a highly developed combination of transportation systems.
Earlier this year, a presidential decree was signed to create a Special Industrial Zone (SIZ) in the Jizzakh region of Uzbekistan. The zone is being formed to create an environment of high technological industrial capacity, to produce competitively priced products efficiently, for both internal and external markets, creating new jobs and raising income levels. This project was started with Chinese investments. The SIZ was created for 30 years with tax and customs allowances for enterprises operating there. Its transport, production and engineering-communication infrastructures are currently being developed. Investors will get preferences for three years if they invest US$300,000, five years for investments from US$3 to US$10 million and seven years for investments above US$10 million.
Since then it has been announced that six textile enterprises will be constructed at the Jizzakh SIZ. According to the state joint-stock company Uzbekyengilsanoat (Uzbekistan’s light industry), the total cost of these projects is US$56 million, and they will be in place by the end of 2015. Chinese firms Nan Yang Mulanhu, Henan Sine, Pinmian Co. Ltd и Hebey An Feng Da Group will realise these projects. After the launch, these enterprises will annually produce 30 million square metres of cotton fabric, 13,000 tonnes of stockinet and 15 million ready-made garments.
A further SIZ was created in Angren this year. Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Economy and the State Statistics Committee have announced ten investment projects worth over US$200 million to be implemented there. These projects will include the production of basic oils from used oil products, silicon, copper pipes, sanitary ceramics and briquette coal with a sugar plant and leather complex to be built within the zone. Just like the one in Jizzakh, this zone will function for 30 years and companies operating within it will be eligible for special tax and customs preferences.
Indeed, the Government’s efforts were exemplified earlier this year, when Project Finance International, a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters, named Uzbekistan’s Ustyurt Gas Chemical Complex on the base of Surgil gas field as ‘2013 Deal of the Year in Oil and Gas Chemistry.’ The award attracted the attention of leading international investment banks, foreign investors and creditors, who have reportedly expressed their interest in being involved in new projects in Uzbekistan.
Between 25 September and 2 October 2013, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Tashkent to discuss recent economic developments, government policies, and prospects for Uzbekistan’s economy. At the conclusion of the mission the Deputy Division Chief in the IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department, Mrs Veronica Bacalu, issued the following statement:
‘Despite the deterioration in the global environment, the economy of Uzbekistan continued to grow rapidly. Strong fiscal and external positions, a stable banking system, and low public debt continue contributing to robust macroeconomic performance. Real GDP growth was maintained at 8 per cent in the first half of 2013, supported by the state-led modernisation investment programme. Exports of goods and services rose by 12 per cent. Despite rapid import growth spurred by capital goods, the current account surplus increased marginally and international reserves remained high.
‘Monetary policy has been accommodative. Supported by directed lending and strong domestic activity, the growth of credit to the economy stayed at 30 per cent year-on-year.
‘The banking sector remained stable, well capitalised, and highly liquid. Financial deepening is progressing at a modest pace. The authorities continued to engage in IMF and World Bank technical assistance, focused on strengthening prudential regulations, on- and off-site supervision, and stress testing.
‘The near-term economic outlook is favourable and the prevailing downside risks remain manageable. Despite deteriorating external environment, economic growth is projected to surpass 7 per cent in 2013-14, supported by the government’s large-scale modernisation investment programme. The authorities are projecting higher GDP growth of 8 per cent in 2013. This is based on their assessment of the possible limited impact of the external environment on the Uzbek economy, and planned contingency measures that would mitigate the negative impact…’
Faced with this positive outlook, it seems that Uzbekistan’s economy will only continue to grow, and as a result, the stability of the country as a whole will undoubtedly be ensured, proving its reputation as a reliable investment destination. In today’s troubled financial climate, this is certainly no mean feat. The country’s government marks this as proof of the efficiency of ‘The Uzbek Model of Development,’ based on principles of deideologisation of economy and its priority over politics, ensuring the role of the state as a main reformer, the rule of law, strong social policy and gradualness of reforms.
Extracts from the World Bank’s overview of Uzbekistan’s economy:
‘Since the mid-2000s, Uzbekistan has enjoyed robust GDP growth, thanks to favourable trade terms for its key export commodities like copper, gold, natural gas, cotton, the Government’s macro-economic management, and limited exposure to international financial markets that protected it from the economic downturn.
‘Overall growth for Uzbekistan is projected to continue at around 7 to 8 per cent annually during 2011-14, supported by net exports and a large capital investment programme.
‘Uzbekistan, with the goal of becoming an industrialised, high middle-income country by around 2050, is continuing to transition to a more market-oriented economy to ensure equitable distribution of growth between regions and to maintain infrastructure and social services.
‘Besides new lending, the existing portfolio of investment projects will support the infrastructure efficiency and social inclusion elements of the government’s strategy. The provisional list of analytical and advisory services includes a proposed joint strategy report “Uzbekistan Vision 2030”. This will lay out roadmaps to facilitate implementation of the authorities’ industrial development, competitiveness and diversification agenda.’
Priority industry sectors of Uzbek economy:
• Oil and gas
(gold, silver, uranium,
copper, iron ore, coal etc)
• Chemical and petrochemical
• Alternative energy
(solar, wind, biofuel)
• Food and beverages
• Leather and footwear
• Construction materials
• Banking and finance
COLLABORATION SUCCESS STORIES:
1 Rio Tinto: A global leader with local presence
Rio Tinto is a world leader in finding, mining and processing the Earth’s mineral resources. From our diverse portfolio we supply the metals and minerals that help the world to grow. Our 71,000 people work in 40 countries across six continents. We are strongly represented in Australia and North America, and also have significant businesses in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.
The goal of our Exploration group is to create value for Rio Tinto through the discovery or acquisition of Tier 1 resources – the largest, lowest-cost resources that are profitable at all parts of the commodity cycle. We prioritise our exploration programmes on a global basis, so that we only pursue the most attractive opportunities. Our decisions are driven not by location or choice of commodity, but by the quality of each opportunity.
Rio Tinto Exploration is progressing opportunities in Central Asia with a focus on the discovery of new world-class copper resources. As part of this programme Rio Tinto has established a representative office and local company in Uzbekistan and has identified an initial exploration opportunity at Gava in the Namangan province. This opportunity was secured in partnership with the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Geology and Mineral Resources through the issuance of a five-year exploration agreement, and the technical teams are now on the ground assessing the potential of the licence.
Exploration Manager for Central Asia, Chris Welton, said: ‘This project is an important first step in Rio Tinto’s exploration plans in Uzbekistan. As we progress the project in 2013 we will also be seeking to identify other projects in Uzbekistan to highlight more opportunities for Rio Tinto and Uzbekistan to explore jointly.’
Technology is an increasingly important factor of success in the metal and mineral industry. Rio Tinto uses improvements in technology to change the way we search for and examine mineral deposits. This approach is being applied in Uzbekistan using advanced geophysical techniques, equipment and interpretation; remote sensing and spectral interpretation; and international specialists in the evaluation of copper exploration programmes. Our partnership with the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Geology and Mineral Resources fosters the transfer of this knowledge and approach through training and jointly implemented programmes.
To ensure the future sustainability of this programme, Rio Tinto is working closely with our stakeholders to create an education partnership. In Uzbekistan we have signed agreements with the key universities to provide channels for Rio Tinto to share our experience with both students and teaching staff, as well as providing Rio Tinto with access to highly skilled graduates. Through this programme, students have undertaken internships with Rio Tinto in Uzbekistan and two graduates have been employed to join our handpicked team of Uzbek nationals who lead Rio Tinto’s activities in Uzbekistan.
A longer-term initiative comes through Rio Tinto’s support of the Republican Olympiad ‘Young Geologist’ with support of this event providing encouragement to pupils considering a career in geology. This long term view to train and develop a highly skilled local team is central to Rio Tinto’s operating strategy, and provides the best chance to make Rio Tinto’s projects in Uzbekistan a success and contribute to the country’s long-term social wellbeing and economic prosperity.
2. British American Tobacco
Uzbekistan (UZBAT) entered into a joint-venture agreement with Uzbekistan’s Government in November 1994. One of the main reasons we entered the Uzbek market was the proactive and stable business environment that the President and the Government of Uzbekistan had established.
Initially, the main asset of the Joint Venture was the Tashkent tobacco factory that was built during the Soviet era. Production, however, was subsequently relocated to the Samarkand region where a state-of-the-art modern factory was constructed, and that currently remains one of the most technologically advanced facilities in the country.
Another important asset the venture operates is a modern fermentation plant that processes raw tobacco grown in the Urgut region of Uzbekistan. UZBAT uses this tobacco not only for domestic production, but also exports it to countries including Russia and Ukraine.
Over the past 20 years, British American Tobacco PLC has made a significant investment into the Uzbek Joint Venture. UZBAT produces brands such as Kent, Pall Mall and Viceroy, and directly employs 1,000 people. Its agricultural operations indirectly support a further 20,000 farmers and growers.
UZBAT is committed to supporting the local communities in which it operates and over the years has introduced a number of social investment projects including:
• Scholarships for students. ‘The Dreams Come True’ project started in 2005 with the aim to support the education of students from tobacco growers’ families. Twenty-four students have already graduated from university and 15 are currently studying under this programme. ‘The Step to the Future’ project started in 2011 with the aim to support talented students. Thirty-four students from socially vulnerable families have been awarded grants by the company to study at Turin Polytechnic University and the Singapore Institute of Management in Tashkent.
• Renovation of freshwater wells to produce drinking water in rural villages. Launched in 2007, so far 18 wells have been repaired in the Urgut district due to this project. More than 24,500 people now have access to fresh water as a result and the restoration of two further artesian wells is on going.
• Improved irrigation infrastructure. The company has also helped farmers to improve the irrigation of agricultural land by repairing and installing 20 water- pumping stations. An additional six were repaired in 2013.
• Alternative energy. The company supports the installation of solar technology to provide sustainable energy and hot water in nine medical centres in rural areas of the Samarkand region.
• Culture. The company provides assistance to the Museum of Temurids’ History in producing replicas of historical artefacts. Since 2012, UZBAT has supported the restoration of the ‘Kampir-Tepa’ historic monument from the Macedonian period and found in the Surkhandarya region.
• Reforestation. For over 15 years, UZBAT has run a programme to protect soil from erosion by agriculture. Under this initiative, about 50,000 tree saplings are grown each year at the company’s Agronomic Centre and are distributed and planted among communities in Urgut and Samarkand.
3. Tethys Petroleum
Tethys Petroleum Limited is listed on both the Toronto and London Stock Exchanges, and has been working in Uzbekistan since early 2009 in conjunction with Uzbekneftegaz National Holding Company, and with the support of the Government of Uzbekistan, to develop the hydrocarbon resources of the country.
Uzbekistan combines huge natural resource potential, a growing industrial sector, a well-educated labour force and a substantial domestic market. The main geological basins are the Amu Darya basin in the south-west of the country and the Fergana basin in the north-east. There are hundreds of oil and gas fields in the country, and huge exploration potential, both in these existing petroleum basins as well as in many other underexplored areas. Uzbekistan is a major supplier of gas to Europe, Russia and China, and has proven to be a reliable international partner since the 1960s. The country is keen to develop its hydrocarbon resources both to meet growing internal demand and for export.
Tethys currently holds two assets: the North Urtabulak field (discovered in the mid 1970s) and the Chegara Group of fields (discovered in the early 1980s). Both fields operate under an innovative Production Enhancement Contract (PEC), bringing mutually beneficial advantages to both the country and to Tethys. This type of contract is unique to Uzbekistan and provides stability, predictability and longevity. Working in partnership with Uzbekneftegaz, the North Urtabulak PEC has produced over 6.3 million barrels of incremental oil since 1999, with over US$67 million in investment.
With the support of Uzbekneftegaz and the Government of Uzbekistan, Tethys has recently acquired a field close to North Urtabulak known as the Chegara Group of fields. In August 2013, a Presidential Decree was issued for this project, allowing work to commence on the field. Development of the Chegara field requires advanced production technologies such as bespoke acid stimulation, directional and radial drilling, and sophisticated means of artificial lift. The PEC model allows for significant technical and human capital investment to increase the overall hydrocarbon production and reserves of the country. Tethys, in cooperation with Uzbekneftegaz, is actively seeking additional fields on which to apply this proven contractual model. Operations are scheduled to commence on the Chegara Group of fields this month.
As well as existing development projects, Uzbekistan holds exciting exploration potential. Tethys is currently negotiating an Exploration Agreement with Uzbekneftegaz for an exploration license in the Karakalpakstan region of the country, and it is hoped that this will be concluded in 2014. Exploration is vital to the continued economic development of Uzbekistan and will further enhance the long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship between Uzbekneftegaz and Tethys.
In addition to the undoubted geological potential of Uzbekistan, the country boasts many significant and attractive attributes for the foreign investor. A strong, reliable and well-enforced legal system brings contract stability and a secure investment climate. A well-educated and motivated workforce allows for the successful implementation of projects; an advantageous geographical location at the centre of Asia gives access to multiple markets, and the historical endowment of cities such as Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand makes travelling to Uzbekistan a very special experience.
Tethys is committed to long-term investment in Uzbekistan, and it is hoped that this ongoing cooperation will continue to bring benefits to both the country and to Tethys.
Uzbekistan at the heart of the New ‘Silk Roads’
Uzbekistan’s transport programmes – past, present and future – are examined by Dr Shirin Akiner, Senior Fellow at the Cambridge Central Forum and Lecturer at the University of London
Uzbekistan, a doubly landlocked country, is keen to develop good transport connections. It already has a diversified domestic infrastructure of roads, railways and airline connections, supported by essential utilities – electricity, gas and water. The overall objectives of the country’s transport strategy are to continue to improve the efficiency of these internal networks, and to strengthen connectivity to international transit corridors. Its policies in this sector are characterised by an orderly, sequenced approach, with a strong emphasis on long-term goals. Important initiatives include the Road Development Programme for 2007-2010, and the Programme to Facilitate Development of Infrastructure, Transport and Communications, for 2011-2015.
One of the primary aims is to construct routes that can be used throughout the year, thereby minimising the closures and delays caused by acute weather events such as avalanches and snowstorms – a not uncommon problem in winter. Considerable emphasis is placed on ensuring the safety and security of transport networks throughout the country. The construction of a railway line from Tashkent to the Fergana Valley, by-passing the Soviet-era line via Tajikistan, is a current priority. Another key objective is to expand programmes for the electrification of the main lines and modernising the rolling stock. (In 2012-15, Uzbekistan plans to carry out a comprehensive overhaul of its communications and transport systems.) A sum of US$4 billion has been allocated for railway upgrades; as part of this project, high-speed trains have been purchased from the Spanish company, Talgo.
Uzbekistan’s central location makes it exceptionally important for intra-regional trade, likewise for long-haul transit of freight. It already has good connections to neighbouring countries and to other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. These transport linkages give Uzbekistan access to ports on the Caspian, Baltic and Black Seas. There are also road and rail links to China (via Kazakhstan) and Iran (via Turkmenistan). The Uzbek government cooperates closely with international and regional organisations that are engaged in the development of transport networks, for example the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia and the Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe programmes. To date, these projects have focused primarily on the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, with little activity in Central Asia. There are hopes that this might change in the future. The lead institution in financing and coordinating such projects is the Asian Development Bank, mainly through the vehicle of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Programme. (CAREC members are the five Central Asian states, along with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China and Pakistan.) CAREC has identified six key transport corridors, based on current traffic volumes and future prospects for growth; several of these corridors cross the territory of Uzbekistan. These routes form part of the larger UN project ‘Euro-Asian Transport Linkages’, aimed at inter-regional capacity building.
Uzbekistan has an international portfolio of trade and investment partners. Its exports include agricultural and textile products, precious metals and automobiles; imports are dominated by metals and heavy equipment. It is within this context of expanding economic contacts that new transport linkages are being developed. In 2010, the state railway company built a cross-border railway linking Termez in Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan (a vital component of the exit route for NATO-ISAF military equipment from Afghanistan); future plans for this line envisage an extension to Herat and further to Kabul. Another important undertaking is the construction of a new railway line to run from Uzbekistan across Turkmenistan to Iran, then to connect by sea with Oman and Qatar (a project first proposed by President Karimov in 2010). An intergovernmental agreement to this effect was concluded in 2011 between the five participating states and it is anticipated that work on the project will start in the near future. Ultimately, the aim is to extend this route eastwards through Kyrgyzstan to China.
Aviation is also being developed. In 2010, the Navoi Cargo Terminal was inaugurated, in partnership with Korean Air. Located in central Uzbekistan, the Air Terminal is equipped with the most advanced logistics, high quality storage facilities, hotels, conference venues, banking facilities and other business services. In parallel to this, Tashkent Airport is being developed as an international passenger hub. These airports are ideally placed to serve as hubs for long-distance flights between Europe and Asia. Moreover, they have the added advantage of linking into the emerging regional road and rail networks.
Another sector experiencing rapid growth is the export of electricity, primarily to neighbouring states but spreading rapidly to the wider region. The telecommunications sector is also expanding, as new high-capacity fibre optic cable systems are created. These and many other transport linkages are constantly proliferating, re-establishing Uzbekistan’s place at the heart of the ‘Silk Roads’ of the twenty-first century.
A DEEPLY ROOTED PARTNERSHIP
Three organisations discuss Uzbek-British collaborations in education and science
1. The British
by Director, Steve McNulty and deputy Deputy Director, Jamilya Gulyamova
What is the common thread that links 12 British and Uzbek higher education institutions, 2,000 student teachers, 1,400 vocational education colleges and 500,000 seven year-olds?
The answer is partnerships between the British Council and the Uzbek Ministries of Higher and Secondary Specialised Education, Public Education and the Uzbek Embassy in London.
Uzbekistan is a young country both in terms of its independence and its population, 60 per cent of whom are under 18 years of age. Education is a national priority and the government aims to align the education system with international standards, enhance the quality of teaching and learning, and equip students with the skills required by the labour markets.
The British Council’s INSPIRE projects brought together the 12 British and Uzbek higher education institutions to encourage academic partnerships between the two countries in areas as diverse as curriculum reform and the history of the Silk Road. Outcomes of the project have included the development of a module on intercultural awareness now being used in language development programmes by more than 2,000 students in both countries and a joint fashion show by students at the London College of Fashion and the Tashkent Textile Institute.
At the age of 16, 85 per cent of Uzbek secondary school students enter vocational education colleges, and since 2006, with the support of the Ministry of Higher and Specialised Secondary Education, the British Council has run its Enterprise Award. Starting in Tashkent with only six participating colleges, the award has since grown into a national competition giving students from over 1,400 colleges the opportunity to demonstrate their entrepreneurial skills in a series of regional heats with the aim of reaching the final in Tashkent.
The English language has always been a major focus of the British Council’s work in Uzbekistan and the Presidential Decree issued last December on the teaching and learning of foreign languages created new opportunities to develop work already in progress. This was recognised by the Minister of Higher and Secondary Specialised Education, Dr Bahodir Khodiev, when he said ‘the British Council is one of the most important partners in the implementation of reforms in foreign language teaching.’
With Ministry support, the work done as part of the English Reform project – aimed at modernising the curriculum for trainee teachers of English – was implemented in all 18 training institutions from September 2013. It is estimated that it will produce around 1,700 highly qualified English teachers annually.
As a spin-off from this project, the British Council was able to take a role in developing new national standards for foreign language teaching. These are referred to the Common European Framework of Reference and will have a huge impact on the practice of English teaching, learning and assessment.
Lastly, the government has taken the bold step of introducing English from Grade 1. This means that 500,000 seven-year-old children started learning English from September 2013. The British Council has already organised a regional conference with the Ministry of Public Education to look at the issues and implications of taking this step and both partners are ready to work together to make the introduction a success.
We believe in the importance of forging strong links between the UK and Uzbekistan through the British Council’s work in both education and culture – something that should help both countries as their young people grow up.
2. Cambridge-Central Asia Forum
by its Chairman, professor Siddharth Saxena
When thinking about the beauty and sophistication of silk fabrics, we often forget about the strength and durability of the silk thread. We imagine the romantic passage it made from ancient Khitai to Europe but we neglect the hub that made possible – both through trade and innovation – the wonderful land that today we call Uzbekistan. Though it is important to emphasise that it is not what that ‘was’ but what that ‘is’!
The strength and sophistication of the silken thread between Cambridge and Uzbekistan continues to develop dynamically, and its length encircles not only the deep intellectual wealth offered by partnerships between academics, but also the benefit for the ordinary people brought together by the breadth of Cambridge’s innovation ecosystem and the exceptional human capital in Uzbekistan.
In 2011, we from Cambridge set out to design and implement Central Asia’s first innovation centre under the name Tashkent Centre of High Technology. Various Cambridge and UK companies were brought in to design and plan this unique centre in conjunction with the Uzbek Embassy in London and Uzbekistan’s Academy of Science in Tashkent.
The Tashkent Centre of High Technology is designed to be a unique technology services and innovation platform in conjunction with the Cambridge ecosystem, which draws on the University of Cambridge’s institutions, technology companies and innovation networks. Uzbekistan is a partner offering exceptional new intellectual and commercial opportunities in the agro-business, mining, metallurgy and petro-chemical sectors, among others. The key vision here is to provide a new boost to the knowledge economy of Uzbekistan in the post-Soviet era.
A burgeoning young and well-trained population, combined with natural resources, gives Uzbekistan a special advantage as an investment venue closely connected with China, Russia and India. However, an investment in the younger generation itself is an essential feature of any collaboration that Cambridge initiates. We therefore took great pleasure in launching the Avicenna Conference, which brought together young scholars from Uzbekistan studying in the UK, and providing them space and opportunity to share their current research with world-renowned senior academics from both Uzbekistan and Britain, from whom they could obtain valuable advice and establish long term collaborative contacts. Both the Head of the Royal Society and the President of the Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences attended the event, together with over 40 graduate students representing all major academic disciplines.
Research ties between Uzbekistan and Cambridge are deeply rooted, ranging from the physics of green technologies based on rare-earth elements, to neurobiology, and even to ancient manuscripts and linguistics. One recent initiative is the consortium between the Cambridge Central Asia Forum from the University of Cambridge and the Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies. Together they secured a highly competitive British Council INSPIRE grant for an interdisciplinary research project on the Great Silk Road. Now, academics and researchers from both sides are busy developing a Masters level course which relies on research of the historical genesis of the Silk Road and its modern day transformation into a network of transport, communication and energy in the Central Asian region.
One of the main objectives of this joint Cambridge-Uzbekistan team is to carry out historical, economic and geopolitical analysis of the potential of the modern Silk Road, its development and transformation. This theme of research is motivated by the importance of not only the development of trade, but also by the immense cultural and intellectual exchange between the East and the West.
Such research requires intimate interaction with the heart and soul of Uzbekistan, its institutions and its cultural hearth (the country’s poetry, music and literature). To access this vibrant realm, the teaching of the Uzbek language was launched in Cambridge last year. The open-lecture format is designed to benefit university academics, but has also attracted diplomats, business people and interested citizenry.
The energy and success of this cooperation on modern and traditional topics is at its best when we all come together in Cambridge in March every year to celebrate Navruz, or the Central Asian New Year. Navruz marks the coming of spring and is a celebration that transcends religious, ethnic, linguistic and national divisions, bringing people together. It showcases the region’s rich tradition and mythology for the world to experience. Above all else it is an occasion for celebration. Attended by several hundred spectators and held in Cambridge’s medieval chapels and cloisters, Navruz brings together the rhythm of Uzbek drums with the harmony of the choir music.
These rhythms of the past and tunes for the future continue to be woven together into the magic carpet of technology and innovation to create employment and wellbeing for the people. www.cambridge-centralasia.org
3. Westminster International University in Tashkent, BY ITS RECTOR, Abdumalik Djumanov
The history of education and science in Uzbekistan is enriched by prominent works of such great medieval fellows as Al-Biruni, Avicenna, Ulugh Beg, Al-Khwarizmi and many others. Backed by this unique academic heritage, Uzbekistan, since gaining its independence in 1991, has faced many challenges: economically – in transitioning from being part of the Soviet command economy; socially – as its population of 27 million (35 per cent under 16 years of age and 62 per cent under 30 years of age) adapted to the massive social changes; and politically – in developing the institutions of a modern independent state. The role of developing human capital was recognised as crucial. In 1997 the government adopted a strategy that set a long-term and gradual transformation of the education system that was to be based on international norms, embracing lifelong-learning principles and enhancing the employability of graduates/school leavers. To implement this strategy, the Government allocated 10 to 12 per cent of its GDP and 35+ per cent of the state budget to education.
Higher education sector reform was recognised as a key strategic requirement for developing a knowledge economy and competing in a global forum. Investments were made to strengthen the higher education institutions’ learning and research-innovation platforms, and to establish a closer partnership between higher education institutions and industry. Significant progress was made in merging the research activities of state-owned research institutions with higher education, as well as joint public-private sector grants for research-innovation projects. Reforming the institutions was a more difficult task, as reforming well-established institutions from within would be long, tortuous and potentially destabilising in the short-term.
Therefore, in 2002, the Government launched a unique strategy of creating autonomous public international universities, where the medium of instruction would be English, the curriculum would be international, and the academic standards monitored and validated by international universities who would offer their own award.
Westminster International University in Tashkent (WIUT) was established in partnership with the University of Westminster in London in order to:
• build capacity in the form of graduates and academic staff to international standards;
• build and disseminate capability to help reform and revitalise higher education and higher education institutions.
In its eleventh year, WIUT is seen as a very successful institution. From an initial cohort of 120 (20 fee paying) in 2002, WIUT will recruit over 600 new students in 2013, celebrate over 1,000 graduates (undergraduate and postgraduate), have 100 faculty staff and an extended city centre campus, plus a reputation to match this growth.
WIUT is seen as a unique model that works. The lessons from WIUT are being spread to other institutions, through the engagement and employment of WIUT staff and graduates in such institutions via an ‘open door’ policy. WIUT is a public Uzbekistan university, is academically autonomous and financially successful – it is fully funded from student fee income. WIUT demonstrates how a different model of higher education institution can work, and how it can be developed within the framework of the current system. WIUT’s strong partnership with the University of Westminster has provided the foundation and continuing support for the model. The UK’s Quality Assurance Agency, in its report on the collaborative framework, identified a range of best practices, commenting on the function of the University of Westminster in WIUT’s groundbreaking role in the development of higher education in Uzbekistan. After 11 years, WIUT has provided a role model for the reform of higher education in Uzbekistan. It has produced capable and employable graduates, grown a cadre of academic and professional administrators that have been recruited to reform other institutions, and provided Uzbekistan with a home-grown higher education institution that is recognised internationally and of which Uzbekistan can be proud. www.wiut.uz
ON EQUAL FOOTING
President of the British-Uzbek Society, Lord Ponsonby, on the bilateral partnership in the area of civil society
Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and has been regarded as the regional centre since Soviet times. After gaining independence in 1991, the country has found itself at the centre of world events and continues to play a leading role regionally.
Under the long-standing leadership of President Karimov, Uzbekistan is completing a transition to a market economy, democracy and civil society. It has become a mature player on the world stage. At present the country is expected to provide a safe exit route for NATO equipment in Afghanistan and is concerned about the potential rise of instability when the troops leave.
Uzbekistan has a multitude of bilateral agreements and is confident working through multilateral institutions. The country is keen to promote a diversity of investors for various internal projects and, in turn, works with the Asian Development Bank to help its neighbours, including Afghanistan. The British government is keen to promote trade relationships with Uzbekistan.
The issues that Uzbekistan faces today are not new, and in many respects they are the same issues it faced the day it gained independence. What has changed, however, is the confidence and independence with which Uzbekistan addresses them. Uzbekistan has adopted a multifaceted approach, one facet of which is the British-Uzbek Society of which I am President.
The Society was established in 2001 as a charity by a group of people representing business, academic and cultural circles, with the support of the Embassy of Uzbekistan in London. Its main aim is to contribute to the strengthening of friendly relations between Britain and Uzbekistan via cooperation in the fields of culture and education, including organising concerts, festivals, exhibitions, lectures and the exchange of visits.
Since November 2008, the Society has been publishing a monthly newsletter which contains information about the most important events in Uzbekistan, bilateral relations with the UK, the Society’s leading corporate members, as well as sports and cultural news. The newsletter is distributed to over 700 addressees.
The Youth Division of the Society was established in 2009 to promote ties between the young people in Britain and Uzbekistan through social and cultural activities. In cooperation with The Haven Wolverhampton, a branch of the Society was opened in Birmingham in November 2012, which covers the West Midlands region.
‘Pearl of the East’
Chief Executive of The Haven Wolverhampton, Kath Rees, highlights the Uzbek-British Women’s Forum taking place in London this month
The third International Uzbek-British Women’s Forum, ‘Pearl of the East’, takes place this month in London. The goal of the Forum is to present achievements of the civil society of Uzbekistan, and in particular NGOs that support vulnerable women and children, as well as to provide a platform for sharing experiences and collaboration between the civil society institutes of the two countries.
The first two forums took place in 2009 (London) and 2011 (Tashkent/Samarkand) and were supported by the Embassy of Uzbekistan in the UK, the British-Uzbek Society and many civil society institutes from both countries.
The long-term partnership between the UK’s Haven Wolverhampton, Uzbekistan’s Socio-Economic Development Centre (SABR), and the Social Initiatives Support Fund (SISF), is the driving force behind these forums.
The Haven Wolverhampton is a charitable organisation, set up in 1973, which provides temporary accommodation and support services to women and children who are affected by domestic violence and homelessness. The Haven has worked in partnership with the SABR since 1997, supporting women from low-income families in the Samarkand region of Uzbekistan to achieve economic independence in a safe environment. SISF develops and implements national social programmes working with the local NGOs. Since it was established in 2007, SISF implemented 140 projects benefiting a total of 2,616,527 people across the country.
The next ‘Pearl of the East’ Women’s Forum will take place as part of the new two-year joint project between The Haven and SABR, titled ‘Sustainable Livelihood and Improvement of Living Standards in Rural Areas of Uzbekistan’. The project is financed by the Institution Building and Partnership Programme (IBPP) and will result in setting up local development centres in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand area, in order to improve access to employment and education for vulnerable groups including women and youth.