The State and Prospects of Economic Cooperation Between Central and South Asian countries
Regional cooperation with Central Asian countries
The foreign policy of Uzbekistan, which is aimed at rapprochement and strengthening good-neighborly, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with neighboring states, has created a solid foundation for the development of trade, economic and investment cooperation between the countries of Central Asia (CA).
The CA countries cover a market area of 75.3 million people. In 2020, the total GDP of the CA countries amounted to $291.1 billion and foreign trade turnover was $142.5 billion.
In recent years, the economies of the CA countries have had high growth rates in the range of 5-7% and even in the crisis year of 2020, the growth rates were negative only in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. According to the forecasts of the World Bank, the CA countries in 2021 will be able to restore the positive dynamics of GDP growth and increase the growth rates in 2022.
Favorable conditions for mutual trade have been created between the CA countries within the framework of the following trade agreements:
- all CA countries (except for Turkmenistan) are parties of «Agreement on a free trade zone of the CIS» from 2011, which the participating countries do not apply import customs duties to each other;
- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of the WTO, Uzbekistan is actively negotiating on accession to the WTO, Turkmenistan in 2020 received observer status in the WTO;
- Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as members of the EAEU are in a common customs space;
- the CA countries also have bilateral agreements to create favorable conditions for mutual trade.
Although CA countries are open to international and regional trade, labor and capital movements at various levels, they have great potential for building closer partnerships and integrated interactions with each other.
In 2020, the total trade turnover (in goods, excluding trade in services) between the CA countries amounted to $12.2 billion, the total foreign trade turnover - $145.5 billion.
Thus, the share of intraregional trade in the total foreign trade turnover of the CA countries amounted to 8.4%.
At the same time, it should be noted that the participation of CA countries in mutual intraregional trade is different.
Thus, the share of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in the volume of trade between the CA countries, their total trade turnover is the lowest and amounts to 5.5% and 4.5% respectively. The participation of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in intraregional trade is the highest at 28.3% and 21.0% respectively. Uzbekistan occupies an intermediate position with an indicator of 13.3%.
Foreign trade of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is less focused on the regional market due to the predominance of hydrocarbons in their exports, which are mainly supplied to non-CIS countries (European countries, China, Russia) and most of the imports also go to these countries.
Despite the fact that the majority of the commodity exports of the CA countries are fossil natural resources, regional trade with each other to a much lesser extent than they sell them outside of the region.
In particular, in 2020, the share of gold in total exports of Tajikistan amounted to 58.1%, Kyrgyzstan - 50.2% and Uzbekistan - 38.3%, which is supplied to Switzerland or Great Britain. About 66% export of mineral products are supplied mainly to the countries of the European Union in the total export volume of Kazakhstan. The main share of Turkmenistan's exports, almost 70-80% falls on China, where Turkmen natural gas is mainly exported.
In this regard, the share of mutual trade between CA countries will be much higher if their exports of raw materials (oil, gas and precious metals) to third countries are not taken into account.
At the same time, the CA countries have great prospects for increasing the volume of intraregional trade in finished products, which meets the interests of all countries in the region.
The creation by CA countries of regional value chains, including industrial and agricultural clusters, will contribute to an increase in the number of joint ventures for the production of finished products that can be exported to third countries.
Regional integration will help reduce the costs of producers and promote the production of products that are competitive on foreign markets. In addition, when the CA countries carrying out trade operations within the region, they have the shortest distances for the delivery of goods, which gives them advantages in saving on transport costs.
The interests of the CA countries also meet the joint creation of international transport corridors and international transport infrastructure in the region, which will help to reduce transport costs in the supply of export products from CA countries to world markets.
It should be noted that all the countries of the CA region are interested in increasing export volumes and diversifying their foreign trade, entering new foreign markets, as well as creating and using new transport routes.
Currently the main trade routes of the CA countries are laid in the northern direction, encouraging area of economic cooperation is the southern direction, including South Asian countries, which geographically lies on Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
Economic cooperation potential between the Central and South Asian countries
The total volume of Uzbekistan’s foreign trade with the countries of South Asia in 2020 amounted to 1.38 billion dollars or 3.8% of the total foreign trade.
The commodity turnover of Uzbekistan with the countries of South Asia, the largest volume falls on Afghanistan - 56.2%, India - 32% and Pakistan - 8.9%. Trade with the Maldives and Nepal is insignificant, while there is practically no trade with Bhutan.
In the trade with Afghanistan, the main share (99.7%) is taken by the export of Uzbekistan, which makes Afghanistan a profitable trade and economic partner. The main share of Uzbekistan's exports to Afghanistan is electricity (30% of exports), wheat flour and legumes (24.1%), as well as metallurgical products.
It is also planned to implement the investment project "Construction of a 500-kW power transmission line «Surkhan - Puli-Khumri» on the territory of Afghanistan. The length is 260 km and worth about $150 million, through loans from ADB and Uzbekistan will finance $45 million. This transmission line will allow connecting the power system of Afghanistan to the unified power system of Uzbekistan and Central Asia.
In November 2020, the President signed two important documents concerning Afghanistan - the Decree «On measures to further expand and strengthen economic cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan» and the Decree «On measures to further develop the activities of special economic and small industrial zones in the Surkhandarya region and the city of Tashkent», which create new legal conditions for strengthening economic cooperation with Afghanistan.
The documents provide for the signing of an agreement on preferential trade between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and bringing the annual volume of mutual trade to $2 billion by 2023.
For these purposes, a free trade zone «International Trade Center Termez» is being created on the territory of Termez with Afghanistan, with an appropriate logistics infrastructure and a special visa-free regime.
On February 2, 2021, a meeting of the trilateral working group was held in Tashkent with the participation of the government delegations of Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the implementation of Mazar-i-Sharif - Kabul - Peshawar railway project. As a result of the meeting, a joint "Road Map" was signed for the construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif - Kabul - Peshawar railway.
The construction of this railway will significantly reduce the time and cost of transporting goods between the countries of South Asia and Europe through Central Asia.
This railway will provide access to the Pakistani seaports of Karachi, Qasem and Gwadar and will connect the South Asian railway system with the Central Asian and Eurasian railway systems and significantly increase the transit potential of Central Asia.
India ranks second in terms of Uzbekistan's trade with the South Asian countries. At the same time, Uzbekistan's export volumes lag significantly behind imports, which are mainly represented by pharmaceutical products in demand in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan's exports to India mainly consist of textile products (13.6% share), base metals (8.4%), food products (5.8%) and etc.
Imports of Uzbekistan from India are growing mainly due to the growth of purchases of "pharmaceutical products", the share of imports is 47%.
At the same time, investment cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector is successfully developing with India, joint ventures have been created on the territory of the «Andijan-Pharm FEZ». Branches of the Indian universities «Amity» in Tashkent and «Sharda» in Andijan were opened to train IT specialists.
In recent years, trade and economic cooperation of Uzbekistan with Pakistan has begun to develop actively, the volume of exports of finished and agricultural products has increased.
In the structure of Uzbekistan's exports to Pakistan: food products make up 81%; textile products - 10.5%; services - 3.5%.
In the structure of imports from Pakistan: pharmaceutical products account for 37%; food products (potatoes, citrus fruits, rice, etc.) - 36%, transport services - 10%; chemical products - 4.5%.
Furthermore, Uzbekistan is interested in expanding cooperation with Pakistan in the transport sector and joint implementation of the above project for the construction of the «Mazari - Sharif - Kabul – Peshawar» railway line.
Foreign trade of Kazakhstan with the countries of South Asia mainly falls on Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, less on Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In 2020, the volume of foreign trade amounted to more than $2.3 billion or 2.3% of Kazakhstan’s total foreign trade turnover.
At the same time, the largest volume of trade between Kazakhstan and the countries of South Asia falls on India - 1.9 billion dollars. (80% of trade with the countries of South Asia) and Afghanistan - 401.8 million dollars (17%).
Kazakhstan mainly exports oil (about 50% of the export volume), chemical elements and their compounds (ferroalloys, titanium, phosphorus), as well as silver in the form of powder to India.
Kazakhstan's imports from India are represented by medical equipment, medicines, textiles, tea products, etc.
Kazakhstan is also interested in the development of the North-South transport corridor and the use of the Iranian port of Chabahar to increase trade with India and other countries of South Asia.
Kazakhstan is a major supplier of food products to Afghanistan, like grain and flour products.
Among the Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan has the lowest indicators of foreign trade with South Asian countries - $61 million or 1.0% of its foreign trade turnover, which is mainly (84%) represented by imports from India.
At the same time, Kyrgyzstan together with Tajikistan, is interested in the implementation of a project for the delivery of electricity from Central Asia to South Asia through the CASA-1000 (Central Asia - South Asia) transmission line. The project plans to supply annually from April to October 2 billion kWh of electricity from Kyrgyzstan and 3 billion kWh from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In February 2021, Kyrgyzstan planned to begin construction of power lines on its territory within the framework of this project.
It should be noted that the total cost of the CASA-1000 project is about $1 billion.
The foreign trade turnover volume of Tajikistan with the South Asian countries amounted to 185.2 million dollars or 4.0% of its total turnover in 2020.
Tajikistan's main trading partners are Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in South Asia.
Due to its geographical position, Tajikistan is interested in the development of alternative transport routes, including through the countries of South Asia, in particular, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The shortest seaport for Tajikistan is the Pakistani port of Karachi (2.7 thousand km), while the distance to the Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas is 3.4 thousand km.
Another important project for Tajikistan in South Asia is the CASA-1000 transmission line project to export electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Within the framework of the CASA-1000 project, Tajikistan plans to export 75 billion kWh of electricity within 15 years.
In 2021, Tajikistan plans to complete the laying of power lines on its territory within the framework of this project. Currently, Tajikistan annually exports to Afghanistan up to 1.5 billion kWh. electricity.
Turkmenistan is also actively developing trade and economic ties with the countries of South Asia. In 2019, the trade turnover amounted to $462.3 million or 3.4% of its total turnover. The main trading partners of Turkmenistan are Afghanistan, India and Pakistan among the countries of South Asia.
The main share (70%) of Turkmenistan's exports to Afghanistan consists of mineral products (oil products and natural gas). In October 2020, the following agreements were signed between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan:
- Memorandum of Understanding between Turkmengaz and Afgan Gaz Enterprise on the creation and development of a natural gas market in Afghanistan;
- Agreement on the purchase of electricity by Afghanistan within the framework of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission line (PTL) project.
An important project of Turkmenistan with the participation of South Asian countries is Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline with a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
The consortium for the construction of TAPI includes the state concern Turkmengaz (owns a controlling stake), as well as Afghan, Pakistani and Indian gas companies.
Turkmenistan planned to complete the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline on its territory in 2020 and in 2021 to begin laying the pipeline in Afghanistan.
Prospects for economic cooperation with Central and South Asian countries.
The main trading partners of the CA countries among the South Asian countries are Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. At the same time, the most active trade and economic cooperation of the CA countries is with Afghanistan, due to the geographical proximity, as well as the great dependence of the Afghan domestic market on imports of food and industrial products.
The Central Asian countries are actively cooperating with India and Pakistan also within the framework of the SCO. In addition, India is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the EAEU, which includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and with Uzbekistan to conclude a Preferential Trade Agreement.
At the same time, the increase in trade with Pakistan and India largely depends on the creation of reliable routes for the delivery of goods. The project for the construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif - Kabul - Peshawar railway occupies a special place and will significantly reduce transportation costs for delivery cargo between the countries of the region.
Thus, the main promising areas of cooperation between the countries of Central and South Asia are new transport corridors that provide access to the Central Asian countries to the southern seaports, cooperation in the energy sector (export of electricity), encouragement of mutual investments, as well as the expansion and diversification of foreign trade.
It should be noted that Afghanistan, which is a bridge between the two regions, will contribute to the further development of economic cooperation between the countries of Central and South Asia.
In this regard, the implementation of transport and energy projects on the territory of Afghanistan will create conditions to expand opportunities for building up trade, economic and investment ties, strengthening transport and communication interaction between the countries of Central and South Asia.
Center for Economic Research and Reforms (Uzbekistan)