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WTO membership can boost Central Asia’s integration

6 July 2023
ITC News

With Uzbekistan poised to join the global economy, WTO membership can also be a springboard for regional integration among Central Asian countries.

Economic cooperation between Central Asia’s five ‘Stans’ – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – could be bolstered if the republics harmonized their trade rules and procedures. This emerged at the Astana International Forum, a high-level event that took place on 8 and 9 June in Astana, Kazakstan.

A side-session on ‘Central Asia in the Multilateral Trading System: The Case For WTO Accession’ discussed integration between the ‘Stans’ and how this can bolster regional resilience and connectivity. The session was jointly offered by the Government of Kazakhstan, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

Greater predictability in foreign markets access, which comes with WTO membership, will help entice foreign businesses to invest in the region. This can also enhance the transfer of technical know-how, the panelists explained.

Maika Oshikawa, Director of the Accessions Division at the WTO, moderated the discussion.

Two top officials from Kazakhstan and Tajikistan joined the panel to share their countries’ experience of joining the WTO.

Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanova is the permanent representative of Kazakhstan to the WTO. He was the country’s chief negotiator during its accession process.

Nuriddinzoda Ahliddin is the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan.

They gave assurances of support to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan during their accessions.

Azizbek Urunov, the Special Representative of the President of Uzbekistan on WTO issues, is the country’s chief negotiator.

He was joined by Rahimberdi Jepbarov, Chairman of the Board of the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan.

They shared updates on their countries’ accession processes and reconfirmed their commitment to move towards WTO membership.

Daria Karman, ITC Associate Programme Officer of Trade Facilitation and Policy for Business, provided an overview of the trade relations between Central Asian republics.

Trade among CARs still modest

She showed that trade between the Central Asian republics (CARs) comprises a modest 10% of their total trade, while China, the European Union, and Russia make up the bulk of their trade. Two thirds of the CARs’ imports and 57% of their exports belong to these three partners.

40 %
of imports to Central Asia come from China
29 %
of Central Asian exports go to Europe, followed closely by China.

Greater regional integration can be facilitated by accession to the WTO. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are already members of the global trade body. Turkmenistan’s accession process has only just started, while Uzbekistan’s journey to join the WTO is well underway. Both of these accession processes are assisted by the ITC, with funding from the EU.


About the project

The project Facilitating the Accession of Uzbekistan to the WTO, implemented by ITC, assists Uzbekistan to formulate its negotiating position. It also helps with the review of relevant laws and policies to comply with WTO requirements, builds technical capacity so officials will be able to administer WTO requirements, and raises awareness among private companies and civil society about the impending WTO membership.

Support with building capacities of Turkmen government officials to start accession negotiations is provided under the regional R4TCA initiative that is implemented in five Central Asian countries, including Turkmenistan.

These projects aim to support Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan’s development plans to modernize their economies by leveraging the WTO accession to contribute to their economic development.