WTO and Central Asian States – Intelligent Exchange of Ideas at Johns Hopkins University
By C. Naseer Ahmad

Washington, DC: Five ambassadors of the Central Asia States - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - and two high ranking officials from the US Trade Representative presented a lively and enlightening discussion moderated by Dr S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. A large audience consisting of scholars, business executives, diplomats and government executives participated in the discussion in which each ambassador tried to explain his country’s perspective and experience and progress towards membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Krygz Republic Ambassador Djumaliev mentioned that his country had been a member of WTO for fifteen years. Discussing bilateral trade issues and average tariff rates, he mentioned that from his country’s perspective, “predictability” was important. Tajikstan’s Ambassador Nuriddin Shamsov discussed his country’s eleven-year negotiations for WTO accession – a long process for membership in this world body.

Kazakhstan’s Ambassador Kairat Umarov recalled his country’s record of economic progress and the underlying reasons: geographic location, openness to trade, transparency and stability. He noted that despite being the largest landlocked country in the world, Kazakhstan had more than $160 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) to date – accounting for nearly 80 percent of all FDI to Central Asia. He observed, “Kazakhstan is committed to creating and maintaining the best investment climate in our region,” and added that his countrymen “would like to see Kazakhstan as a trade and logistics hub, just as it was during the [era of] the Great Silk Road.”

Ambassador Umarov noted the considerable economic reforms Kazakhstan has introduced to comply with WTO standards, as well as the country’s leadership in the establishment of the Customs Union, a regional trade pact designed to further integrate the economies of Russia and its Central Asian neighbors, as evidence of its commitment to free and fair trade.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that most people know vaguely about the “stans” of Central Asia. But few realize the emerging importance of Kazakhstan – which plays such a vital and growing role in the region and in the world. As an economically and political stable nation, Kazakhstan has been able to work extensively with international organizations such as WTO, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Kazakhstan endeavors to create better understanding between predominantly Muslim nations and the rest of the world.

Mara Burr, Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative for South and Central Asia, suggested an analytical approach “to look in the past before devising new strategy” and asking “how do we make it better” with respect to the trade agreements. Free flow of goods and numerous opportunities in the region – for imports and exports to large markets in India and Pakistan figured in the discussion. Laurie Curry, Director of Central Asia, US Trade Representative, presented a thought-provoking presentation on WTO.

The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program - with offices in Washington and Stockholm - is an exciting academic venue jointly affiliated with the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Security and Development Policy. According to its website “it is the first Center of its kind, and is today firmly established as a leading center for research and policy worldwide, serving a large and diverse community of analysts, scholars, policy-watchers, business leaders and journalists.”

Dr Starr made the evening more interesting with timely humorous interjections. For those who braved the weather on the damp February evening after work to hear different perspectives, it was good trade with no buyers’ remorse.

 

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