In an interview with Diplomatist Magazine, the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to India, H.E. Mr. Yerlan Alimbayev talks about the growing Kazakh-India partnership. He also elucidates in depth about the attractive investment opportunities existing in Kazakhstan for the Indian investors.
Q. The current political, strategic and economic developments present enormous potential for Kazakhstan and India to improve their engagement. In your representation as the new Ambassador of Kazakhstan to India, what vision you hold and cooperation you seek to further strengthen these relations?
Adhering to the principle of continuity, in my work I consider it important to pay special attention to priority projects, which include energy, space, military-technical cooperation, FinTech, IT, healthcare and pharmacology. For these purposes, we created additional Joint Working Groups in the uncovered areas.
Besides, I plan to focus on strengthening a strategic partnership (high-level visits), further cooperation within the framework of international organizations, including on peacekeeping issues. Deepening of trade, economic and investment cooperation are another many promising prospects of bilateral interaction. In this regard, the main task is to hold the 14thmeeting of the Intergovernmental Commission at the beginning of 2020. Just recently we had a very successful meeting of the Joint Working Group on Connectivity, Transport and Logistics.
In addition, I have already conducted several trips to the regions to meet with honorary consuls of Kazakhstan in Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Chennai, Kolkata and Assam, along with government officials and Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the states.
Q. Kazakhstan has made extraordinary progress over the past years. Not only has it been able to preserve peace, security and stability in the country but has emerged as a noteworthy economic and political actor in the Central Asian and CIS region. Kindly expand on this.
The economy of Kazakhstan – the largest in Central Asia – provides 60% of the total GDP of the region. Since 1999, Kazakhstan’s economy has shown consistent growth, for ten months of 2019, the GDP growth reached 4,4%. So, as we seek to further modernize our economy in order to reach our goal of joining the top 30 most developed countries by 2050, we naturally need to strengthen our efforts to attract a diversified range of foreign investments and technologies.
Kazakhstan has made significant progress in creating a favourable investment climate. According to the latest Doing Business rating, Kazakhstan is ranked 25 among 190 economies. Kazakhstan also ranks first in the “Protection of minority investors” category. At present, more and more foreign businessmen and investors continue to recognize opportunities for maximizing revenue in Kazakhstan, as well as the opportunities to establish a foothold in Central Asia and gain access to the Eurasian Economic Union – a marketplace of over 180 million consumers.
Q. How did Kazakhstan-India mutual trade and investments develop last year?
Trade turnover between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of India exceeds the total volume of trade of India with other countries of our region. In 2018, the turnover amounted to 1.2 billion dollars. The main export goods from Kazakhstan to India are crude oil, uranium, chemical radioactive elements and their compounds, silver, asbestos, hydrogen, inert gases and other non-metals, ferroalloys, titanium and its products, etc.
The main imports of Kazakhstan are medicines, tea, plans and drawings, concrete, medical equipment, tobacco, refractory ceramic products and others. About 560 legal entities and branches with the participation of Indian capital are registered in Kazakhstan. Air Astana runs 14 flights between Delhi and Almaty. We expect the opening of additional flights on the routes of Mumbai-Almaty by the Indian and Kazakh air carriers.
Last year more than 32 000 Indian citizens visited Kazakhstan as tourists and over 80 000 as transit passengers. It should be noted that 72 hours’ visa-free regime for Indian passengers flying by Air Astana to third countries is available in Kazakhstan international airports.
Today, Kazakhstan is interested in attracting Indian investors looking for the efficiency of their investments and ready to consider our country as a platform for the production of goods and services with high added value for further export.
In 2018, Kazakhstan also invested in the Indian economy. In May 2018, the Unified Accumulative Fund of Kazakhstan invested to Indian Railway Finance Corporation IRFC and Export-Import Bank of India more than 30 million dollars. We recently opened a Regional office of the Kazakh Invest National Company in New Delhi, which serves as the main operator and a one-stop-shop for servicing and accompanying Indian investors during their business endeavours in Kazakhstan.
Since 2018 citizens of both our countries have the opportunity to obtain the electronic visas. We look forward to many future visits of Indian tourists to Kazakhstan. And of course, our wonderful country is open for the Indian business.
Q. Both ISRO and the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan have signed an agreement to help and co-operate with each other in space activities. How would you like to see the cooperation develop?
Space agency of Kazakhstan has conducted several meetings with ISRO regarding the production of Remote Sensing Satellite “KAZSat-2R”. We are also studying closely the commercial proposal by the Indian side submitted at the last meeting in Bangalore this year. Kazakhstan is looking for joint production of satellites by using our manufacturing facilities and technology transfer, where our engineers could be trained as well by the Indian side.
I would also like to highlight regular participation of our officials in the Short Course organized by the Indian Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP). This is a great initiative of the Department of Space, Government of India, to share Indian experience in space with foreign specialists.
Q. Kazakhstan remains one of the biggest oil exporters in the world. How can this have an impression on Kazakh-Indian relations?
As I’ve already mentioned, one of the main export goods from Kazakhstan to India is crude oil. India is considering expanding hydrocarbon cooperation with resource-rich Kazakhstan including exploration and production of hydrocarbons and participation of Indian companies in the oil and gas sector of Central Asia’s biggest country. While India will also explore the possibility of implementing a petrochemical project in Kazakhstan, we are eager to supply gas to India.
This was decided at the 13th meeting of the Kazakhstan-India Intergovernmental Commission on Trade of the Kazakhstan-India Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic, Scientific, Technical, Industrial and Cultural cooperation held in September 2017 in Nur-Sultan. The co-chairs of this Intergovernmental Commission are the Minister of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan Mr. K. Bozumbayev and the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas of the Republic of India Mr. D. Pradhan.
Q. What measures will be taken to make it easier and more attractive for Indian companies to do business in Kazakhstan?
The main problem Indian investor is facing is the lack of information about investment opportunities of Kazakhstan. As a one-stop-shop, Kazakh Invest, a national investment promotion and facilitation company, opened a representative office in New Delhi in May 2019. The company offers a full range of services to investors and supports investment projects from an initial idea to implementation as well as during the post-investment period.
Additionally, Kazakh Invest introduced a proactive approach and new investment promotion strategies last year. Working closely with the Government representatives, international consulting firms and local businesses, the company developed 77 investment proposals for flagship projects within the identified priority sectors, such as mining and metallurgy, agriculture, petro chemistry, tourism and others. The investment proposals include a business plan, financial model, feasibility study and project structuring.
Kazakhstan has tailored new approaches to the investment policy based on the principles of proactivity and comprehensive and quality support to the potential and the existing investors.
Now, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan personally performs the responsibilities of the Investment Ombudsman, ensuring coordination and performance of the government on the matters of development and implementation of investment policy.
To further improve the experience of foreign businesses in Kazakhstan our Government has successfully established the Coordination Council on Foreign Direct Investment. The Council allows to review and develop solutions for the issues arising during implementation of investment projects in an efficient and timely manner.
Setting an ambitious goal to become the regional financial hub, Kazakhstan launched the Astana International Financial Centre that operates to the highest international standards and offers a common law court system for the first time in Eurasia.
The Foreign Direct Investment Fund was established to facilitate investment in the non-extracting sectors, in accordance with the best international practices. With capitalization at $1 billion, the Fund will dedicate financial resources to investing in some of the most promising export-oriented industries.
Indeed, Kazakhstan offers a wide range of opportunities for businesses, investors and entrepreneurs. We offer some of the most business-friendly environments in the region and in the world. After a series of reforms, Kazakhstan now counts among the top 25 countries in the prestigious World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 index. We provide access to some of the most dynamic markets on the continent, including that of the Eurasian Economic Union with almost 200 million potential consumers, Western China with 300 million consumers, Caspian Sea countries (150 million) and Central Asian market (50 million).
Additionally, Kazakhstan offers impressive investment incentives. There are currently 13 special economic zones and 24 industrial zones in Kazakhstan, which offer investors a 0% rate for corporate income tax, land tax, property tax, as well as exemption from customs duties. In addition, the SEZs offer a free plot of land, a simplified procedure for the employment of foreign labour and access to established infrastructure and digital networks.
Q. What are the common interest of Kazakhstan and India in the international sphere?
I am pleased to note that Kazakhstan and India provide constant mutual support to their international initiatives. This is facilitated by the absence of bilateral political problems and the proximity of the positions of the two countries on many topical issues on the international agenda.
We are grateful to India for supporting Kazakhstan’s initiatives in the framework of international organizations such as the UN, CICA, SCO, etc. In its turn, Kazakhstan also supports Indian candidates for various UN structures, as well as contributed to India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a full-fledged member at the historic Astana Summit in 2017.
Kazakhstan immensely appreciates the level of cooperation achieved with India in the military sphere. The joint peacekeeping activity within the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon is an indicator of the high political trust between our countries. We are grateful to the Indian side for accepting Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping unit as part of the Indian battalion in the UN mission in Lebanon. The most important reason for choosing India as a partner country for the Kazakhstan peacekeeping contingent is your long experience in the sphere of peacekeeping, the established system of organization of military activities, as well as the strategic partnership between our countries.
We look forward to extend the term of our co-deployment in UNIFIL by providing Kazakhstan with 4 additional rotations (6 months each).
Q. Kazakhstan has such an exceptionally articulated culture, particularly in art and music. Please highlight some of the efforts that the government of Kazakhstan is currently undertaking to promote this.
The culture of Kazakhstan is a crucible, imbued with the spirit of a nomadic past, which has melded together with the diverse art, traditions, and lifestyles of Central Asian nations. We have a rich literature both written and oral. In 2020 we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of Abay Kunanbayuly, the great Kazakh poet and philosopher. Our Embassy will organize”Art of Abay” youth biennale, installation, and other creative activities with large covering in social media.
As you know our countries have centuries-long bonds, including the “Great Silk Route” and its prominent philosophers and thinkers. Abu Nasyr Al-Farabi is one of them, born in 870 in the city of Farab – now Otrar (South Kazakhstan region of Kazakhstan).
On 23rd of August this year, we inaugurated the Kazakh-Indian Scientific, Educational and Cultural Center named after Al-Farabi in presence of H.E. Kiren Rijiju – Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports of India. The activities of the center will be aimed at developing a cultural dialogue between Kazakhstan and India.
We are planning to teach Kazakh language to Indians in this Centre. In addition, given that the 1150th anniversary of Al-Farabi will be celebrated in 2020 under the auspices of UNESCO, we will organize drawing competition and poetic competition among children, winners will be awarded by special Kazakhstani-Indian Commission.
As you know, ICCR is organizing the 6th International Folk Dance and Music Festival on 2-4 December, 2019, and the Philharmonic Society of Eurasian National University of Nur-Sultan will participate in it. Their input in International cultural event in India will create a great impulse for cooperation and certainly enrich the programme of the concerts in different cities of India.
Q. Both countries are partners in areas such as healthcare, education, space, IT technology and energy. Are you satisfied with the existing engagement levels? And what do you expect going forward?
Great prospects are seen in Kazakhstan’s cooperation with India in these fields. We are aware that India is at the forefront as a source of innovation, scientific and technical development, and represents a huge export market for foreign goods, including oil and uranium, while acquiring the status of a major investor and supplier of advanced technologies, primarily in IT.
In order to strengthen the interaction between the two countries in these areas, we initiated the creation of such mechanisms as joint working groups with the involvement of relevant state bodies, as well as large companies of Kazakhstan and India. By the way, the first meeting of the joint working group on space will be held soon in Kazakhstan, and I hope that we will see good results on cooperation between the two countries in this field in the nearest future.