bstract: During the last decade three Latin American countries became part of the G-20 -Argentina, Brazil and Mexico- and a forth one – Colombia- has the GDP and the political status similar to the others. Those countries do not hide their intention to become global players and Central Asia in general, and Kazakhstan, in particular, has emerged as one of the issues in their foreign policy agenda. On the other hand, Kazakhstan has focused its attention in those countries as part of its global foreign policy strategy. At this moment there is a window of opportunity but to get the benefits of it certain steps should be done.
A comprehensive approach must include not only the political-diplomatic contacts, but also the economic-trade factor and the cultural one. This last area, the cultural one, can be the most important because it has the potential to generate personal contacts that can overcome periods of time where the political and economic relations are not a priority.
We would like to analyse the Kazakh-Latin American policies in those three areas in order to identify good practices and establish the potential of those relations.
During the most part of the XX century Central Asia was part of the Soviet Union so the political and trade relations linked Moscow with Latin American countries. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil – among other Latin American states- recognized and established diplomatic relation with all the Central Asian countries.
After the establishment of the independent states of that region, the bilateral relations never reached a high level and were considered as peripheral for both actors – Latin American states and Central Asian countries.
However, at the beginning of the 21st century the situation has changed dramatically. On one hand, Kazakhstan became interested on Latin American countries, mainly on Brazil but also on the region as a whole: Kazakhstan has entered the third decade of its independence as an established and stable state with a dynamically developing economy and clearly set foreign policy priorities. The increased participation of Kazakhstan in world affairs can be seen by the rising role and strengthening international reputation of the state, its increased regional weight and importance for the world financial institutions and global economy.
Recently Kazakhstan adopted new The Foreign Policy Concept of the Republic of Kazakhstan for the years 2014–2020, which has been developed based on the directions, set forth in the Strategy Kazakhstan – 2050 Address to the people of Kazakhstan by President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Strategy – 2050). This strategy represents a system of fundamental views on the principles, approaches, aims, priorities and tasks of foreign policy for the Republic of Kazakhstan.
According to one of the Foreign Policy Priorities “The Republic of Kazakhstan attaches great importance to cooperation with the countries of North, Central and South America. In this paper, priority is given to the development of trade - economic, investment and humanitarian ties and the promotion of common interests in the UN and other international organizations”.
Among Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil and Mйxico, together, represent another interest for Kazakhstan. On one hand those countries are members of the G-20 a very influential forum which got the attention of Astana. As it is recognized on “Kazakhstan – 2050” strategy, which was unveiled by President Nazarbayev in December 2012, one of the objectives is to draw the country closer to the world’s 30 most advanced economies. This is the reason why the G-20 countries are becoming so important to Kazakhstan.
On the other hand, Brazil and then Argentina and Mexico, considered Central Asia and Kazakhstan specifically not only as a potential commercial partner but as a political and diplomatic one. This new situation led to a mutual `discovering´, which is exactly the period we are now.
Although political cooperation of the two countries traditionally have not been very active and neither to the Latin American countries´ foreign policy general framework Central Asia was never considered as a priority or a region of interest, nor for Kazakhstan Latin America entered to the circle of closest strategic interests, however, those countries have identical or similar positions on most of global issues.
This is the main reason behind the growing contacts between those three Latin American countries and Kazakhstan. It is a window of opportunity that our countries should get the most use of it.
Even though after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Latin American countries recognized and established diplomatic relations with all the Central Asian states, this diplomatic measure was just a formal step that did not develop the bilateral contacts between those states.
Brazil was the first country that envisaged the importance of Kazakhstan in Central Asia and developed a foreign policy agenda towards this country. In August 2006, Brazil opened its embassy in Kazakhstan and in September 2007, President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Brazil. The Brazilian President, Inacio Lula da Silva, visited Kazakhstan in June 2009.
Following this “Brazilian move”, at the end of June, Argentina organized the first diplomatic visit to the region. A delegation headed by Ambassador Eduardo Sadous, Special Representative of the Secretary of Commerce, by Ricardo Forrester, a diplomat in charge of Central Asian states, and Pedro Eugenio Mazzeo, representative of AFIP (Administraciуn Federal de Ingresos Pъblicos), the institution which collects and administrates taxes in Argentina, visited Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and then some Caucasian states. The main objective of the visit was to have the first direct contact with officials of those countries and to establish a bilateral agenda of cooperation on the economic and political fields.
It is important to stress that the Argentinean interest on Central Asia was in part consequence of the Brazilian interest on that region. Moreover, the Brazilian interest on Central Asia was the result of the Kazakh interest on Brazil.
In October 2013, Kazakhstan opened its first embassy in South America, in Brazil, and this diplomatic mission was accredited as the non-resident embassy to Argentina. The Kazakh embassy in Mexico was established in September 2015.
Argentina has expressed its interest in opening its first Central Asian embassy in Kazakhstan during the visit of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hйctor Timerman, to Astana in May 2014. On the other side, Mexico, maintains its embassy in Ankara as its non-resident embassy to Kazakhstan.
Besides this diplomatic decisions and the high level visits that began to be quite common after 2013, there is another area of cooperation of Latin American countries and Kazakhstan, the dialogue through regional organizations.
It is very interesting the conversations held by Kazakhstan with the Organization of American States in 2013 to get the support of the American countries on the project to become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Other important arena of inter-regional cooperation is the dialogue between the MERCOSUR and the Eurasian Economic Union, which began in December 2014 based on the project of a Free Trade Agreement between those two integration organizations.
The organization of the EXPO 2017 has contributed to the knowledge of Kazakhstan and the bilateral high levels contacts. It would be highly desirable that after this event our countries can maintain and increase those contacts through the establishment of a common agenda.
On the multilateral level, Argentina and Brazil are especially interested on the experience of Kazakhstan on the establishment of a Central Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. This initiative matches with the Latin America Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (Tlatelolco Treaty) and the bilateral non-proliferation regime between Argentina and Brazil (the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials – ABACC). The efforts towards regional and global non-proliferation regimens is a shared concern between Argentina, Brazil and Kazakhstan.
It is important to note that Latin American states are interested on Kazakhstan itself but also interested on the geopolitical position of this country. Among Central Asian states, Kazakhstan is the largest by far, both in terms of geography and economics. The economic growth Kazakhstan has undergone, as well as the potential it possesses for even further development, makes its study a worthwhile endeavour.
Kazakhstan is a country full of opportunities for some Argentinean and Brazilian technologies. That is the main reason behind the interest of Argentina, for example, on the inclusion of Kazakhstan on the World Trade Organization1 and the agreement signed by the two countries on Genиve on March 2012.
At the same time, Kazakhstan represents the entrance of Latin American products to the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space. By entering the Customs Union, Kazakhstan creates for investors a more attractive market of 170 million people and opens up additional possibilities for effective investment projects. This is particularly important in a moment where the need to open new markets is one of the top economic priorities of the present government. Three out of four BRIC countries are located near Kazakhstan: Russia, China and India. Last but not the least Kazakhstan government is completely focused on economic diversification.
If we analyse the bilateral trade relations (see table 1) we can see that Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have increased their exports to Kazakhstan three times from 2002 to 2015. On the other hand, Kazakh exports to those countries during this period of time have increased almost four times.
Main traded products include sugar, sucrose, ferrous metal pipes, and meat cattle. Those products of animal and vegetable origin, food and metals (primary goods) should be complemented in the long run with more technological intensive and value added products if our countries want to avoid the “primarization” of the bilateral trade.
There is room for investment in areas where our countries have specific expertise, for developing new products through R&D projects and for exploring the possibilities of joint ventures. Those activities will allow the development of the economic system of our countries while at the same time will build long lasting bilateral relations which were not be based on offer and demand of primary goods.
Table 1 - Kazakhstan – Argentina / Brazil / Mexico trade (2002-2015)
(All amounts expressed in thousands of U.S. Dollars) Source:ALADI (LatinAmerican IntegrationAssociation), available online http://consultawebv2.aladi.org/sicoexV2/jsf/comercio_exterior_item_arancelario.
The decrease of the Latin American exports (blue) can be explained by the entering into force of the Eurasian Economic Union and the fact that in Latin America the exports to Kazakhstan are entering into third countries part of this Union and, as a consequence of this, those changes are reflected on the trade statistics. It is also worth to consider a decrease related to the changes on the exchange rates of the currencies of the Eurasian Economic Union countries and its impact on the imports.
In this table you can see the exports from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico (blue) and the imports from Kazakhstan of those countries (orange). It is quite remarkable the increase of Kazakh exports to the Latin American countries. Total turnover amounted to 250 million, two thirds of it are Kazakh exports to Latin America. It is a new trend in this economic relationship.
The most important challenge to the bilateral trade is how to overcome a relationship based on the exchange of primary goods (oil, wheat, meat, minerals) and to generate business based on the exchange of technologies and the development of joint ventures.
There are certain areas as for example biotechnology, urban waste management, clean energies, where certain Latin American companies had shown interest in exploring the Kazakh market in order to identify reliable partners. The excellent business environment that offers Kazakhstan sometimes is often unknown by the Latin American business community. In this regard, there is a huge work to be done in order to increase the knowledge of those opportunities.
On the other hand, it should be highly desirable to work, at the same time, on a regional approach from MERCOSUR to maximize the capabilities of Brazil and Argentina, working together in collaboration, not in competition.
Unfortunately, the cultural and academic contacts between our regions were almost non-existent during the last twenty years. The establishment of the Kazakh embassy in Brasilia triggered the contacts between academic institutions of Latin America and Kazakhstan.
In Argentina, La Plata National University, is developing contacts with different Kazakh institutions: Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan - Institute of Diplomacy, Al Farabi Kazakh National University and L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University.
Different MoU were signed MoU between those institutions and we are quite confident that in the near future we are going to increase those contacts by fostering the exchange of professors and students and by supporting joint research activities and joint publications.
This is only the first stage of cultural and academic contacts which, we should not forget, need to be maintained in order to generate proper results.
It is impossible to think about the development of cultural relations without a proper development of the knowledge of the languages of the countries. In this area, Kazakhstan is in a better situation than the Latin American countries since the study of the Spanish Language in this country is much more developed.
We could argue that by supporting this trend Universities in Kazakhstan can develop academic programs related to Latin America (history, politics, culture, economy) in order to train government officials who will work in that region in the future and, of course, to develop a more comprehensive knowledge of the region. The establishment of University chairs about the region can be an excellent opportunity to institutionalize the study of this region.
Programs of exchange of students can lay the basis of personal contacts and friendship, intercultural bridges that will benefit the political and economic relations.
In Latin America, unfortunately, the knowledge of Russian and Kazakh languages is underdeveloped but this situation can be remediated by political support. Regional studies all over the world are developed by government interested in doing it. Kazakh, Turkish or Eurasian Studies are not an exception.
We can add that the excellent bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Spain can be used as a bridge to reach Latin America as well. Spain has very important cultural, historical, linguistic, political and economic contact with Latin America, and those Kazakhstan-Spain contacts can be used as the basis of a much more comprehensive framework for Kazakhstan-Spanish speaking countries.
Finally, tourism can play a great role on mutual interactions and knowledge. Fortunately enough at this moment Kazakhstan has signed agreements with Argentina, Brazil and Mexico on the complete abolition of the visa regime between those countries. Based on this new possibility the citizen of those four states can visit the other three countries without visa. It will no doubts encourage business contacts from both sides.
The growing interest of Kazakhstan and Argentina on Latin America and Central Asia respectively, is the most important political and diplomatic event on the two decades of bilateral relations.
At this moment, each of the countries and due to specific reasons is showing a will to increase the contacts on the political, economic and cultural fields. The main challenge is how to keep this interest on the long run. To reach this objective is mandatory to generate a framework of collaboration between governmental decision-makers, businesspersons and the academia. This is the best way to increase the knowledge about countries, which were almost totally absent in the cultural and political life of the other.
The EXPO 2017 will become a milestone in the world presence of Kazakhstan. In the case of the Latin American countries this event can be used as the trigger to develop a comprehensive knowledge of Kazakhstan in the region.