Interview: Kairat Abdrakhmanov

How have Kazakhstan and the Gulf states further strengthened their political and economic ties?

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV: Kazakhstan’s relations with countries in the MENA region continue to develop. Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, conducted an official visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2016 and the UAE in January 2017, and took part in the 2017 Riyadh summit in May.

The events have reaffirmed the intentions of both sides to further strengthen and expand bilateral relations in the political, trade, economic, investment and cultural spheres. There has also been an increase in the volume of bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and MENA countries over recent years.

At the end of 2016 the total aggregate volume of trade with countries in the region was $987.2m, and in the first nine months of 2017 this figure exceeded $800m. The top-three countries in terms of trade volume in 2017 were the UAE ($419.6m), Algeria ($56.2m) and Egypt ($44.3m).

The Astana International Financial Centre has also started operating on the premises of the former Expo 2017. The Dubai International Financial Centre’s experience and model was used as a basis for this new institution, which we believe will become another platform showcasing our fruitful cooperation.

In which economic areas is there potential for further cooperation between Kazakhstan and countries in the MENA region?

ABDRAKHMANOV: Kazakhstan has much in common with MENA countries in terms of culture, and there are significant opportunities to further develop and expand cooperation in the tourism sector.

A visa-free regime between Kazakhstan and the UAE has recently come into effect and is expected to increase tourist flows. Kazakhstan has a lot to offer foreign tourists, including citizens from the Gulf. There is a varied selection of natural landscapes, as well as historical and cultural monuments for tourists to enjoy. The international IT start-up hub in Astana and the International Green Technologies Centre will be established in early 2018, and will invite cooperation in innovation, IT and alternative energy sources. Countries in the MENA region are most welcome to engage in projects within these initiatives.

What role do you expect Kazakhstan to play in the development of existing and new industries in the Middle East in the future?

ABDRAKHMANOV: Kazakhstan’s prospects for cooperation with economies in the Middle East are significant and cover many areas in industry and society. Our ongoing efforts include close bilateral and multilateral political interaction, and economic, cultural, scientific and tourism cooperation.

There are also positive outlooks for petrochemicals, energy, defence, agriculture and pharmaceuticals. Work is already under way on the implementation of a project with the UAE to build a petrochemical complex in the Atyrau region.

Together with our Middle Eastern partners, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, we are searching for the most economically efficient method for delivering Kazakh agricultural products to the region. The aerospace industry is a new area of bilateral cooperation. In late 2017 a Kazakh delegation visited the UAE and established a cooperative working group for the development of joint space projects.

It is worth mentioning that in 2017 our government approved the National Investment Strategy for 2018-22, which highlighted attractive investment sectors and economic opportunities in 36 potential countries. Among these are 11 top-priority countries, including the UAE. Kazakhstan will work closely with its counterparts in the UAE to determine the best approach to attract more foreign investors, and create opportunities and conditions for investment.