Integration in central asia and the position of Uzbekistan

Abstract. There are many myths about the processes of Central Asian integration. In particular, there is a myth that Uzbekistan in the post-Soviet period has withdrawn from the integration processes in the region. But analysis shows that this is just a myth spread by insufficiently objective and informed authors.

Uzbekistan has always declared the development of regional cooperation and integration as the most important priority of its foreign policy. Uzbekistan acted as one of the initiators of the creation in 1994 of the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC) and then its transformation in 2002 to the Central Asian Cooperation (CAC) of the CACO.

At the same time, the policy of Uzbekistan in the formation of certain integration associations in the region and around it can be formulated as strictly pragmatic. Uzbekistan in the medium term does not plan to participate in the integration structures formed today in the post-Soviet space. But its policy will be aimed at forming cooperation with the countries of the region and gradually building economic ties between the Central Asian countries in those areas and in the forms to which the countries of the region are ready.

Political and economic realities: limitations and opportunities for regional cooperation and integration

The development of regional cooperation and integration in Central Asia is an indisputable factor in the long-term sustainable economic growth of all countries in the region. Moreover, economic cooperation strengthening in Central Asia is one of the main conditions for ensuring the security of the region.

In addition to the general historical prerequisites for the development of regional cooperation and integration, there are several important factors that will influence the Central Asian countries to build up multilateral cooperation among themselves:

  • The presence of significant structural interdependence around the issues of maintaining the working capacity and development of water and energy infrastructure;
  • The need to develop a regional-transport network to minimize the geographical shortcomings of Central Asian countries, expand access to the region for large neighbors and enter global markets;
  • The need to harmonize legal standards in the areas of finance, trade, transport, communications and other areas for private sector growth, overcoming the segmentation of national markets and increasing the attractiveness of the region for foreign investors;
  • The need to develop cooperation in the border areas and avoid conflict situations in the border areas.

In addition, there are challenges and threats of a regional nature that can be neutralized only with a regional approach. In particular, the challenges and threats include pollution of the atmosphere; land degradation; the spread of infectious diseases and epidemics; the trafficking of drugs, weapons and people; and the spread of ideologies of religious extremism and terrorism.

The influence of these factors underscores the interdependence of Central Asian countries, makes regional cooperation and integration necessary for the future sustainable economic growth of all countries in the region.

The post-Soviet countries of Central Asia have experienced many attempts at integration, in various formats and with different goals, most of which now can be remembered only by specialists.

Among such attempts, one can recall the establishment of the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC) and the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO). There were other initiatives aimed at stimulating regional cooperation and integration in Central Asia. For example, the initiative of the Asian Development Bank – CAREC - and the TRACECA project, actively promoted by the European Union and a number of others.

However, the overall dynamics of regional initiatives in the Central Asian region over the years has largely remained rather sluggish. The multiplicity of regional organizations and various "multi-speed" integration entities (both regionally and at the level of the entire postSoviet space) with almost identical goals and objectives led to fragmentation of the political and economic space of the region, stretching, and ineffective use of limited management mechanisms in the Central Asian countries.

There can be a lot of reasons for the failure of regional integration projects. In our opinion, the main ones are the following:

The biggest reason of all is that in all countries of the region there have been processes relating to the formation of statehood; national identity; and the formation of a market economy and a new political system. The formation of statehood and close integration are two differently directed processes, which, in the opinion of the author, are simultaneously incompatible.

  • Regional initiatives developed and promoted by national governments were more political than economic in nature, often leading to excessive politicization of issues of regional cooperation and integration;
  • The already-created institutional and other formats for the development of interstate relations in the region suffered from a lack of "real substance";
  • There was uncertainty about the distribution of income from regional projects and fears of possible losses (both economic and political).
  • There was no confidence within the integration groups, which was expressed in the fears of small countries in the region towards larger ones, often fueled by large extra-regional powers in their own geopolitical interests.
  • The existing discrepancy in the economic policies and levels of economic development of the countries of the region, which continue to grow.

But one of the main reasons was that in the previous stages the governments of the countries of the region monopolized the right to solve the issues of regional cooperation and the nomination of regional integration initiatives. In addition, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and the expert community were often placed before de facto events. This is understandable - in all countries of the region the private sector was weak and not developed. And so most regional projects bore the nature of bureaucratic initiatives - a kind of initiative for the sake of demonstrating political dynamics. At the same time, the national businesses of the countries of the region did not see their place in the integration processes.

As a result, regional cooperation in Central Asia was mainly limited to joint consultations and statements on issues of mutual interest, "necessary" trade and economic relations, separate interstate projects and programs.

At the same time, the recognition by the leaders of the Central Asian countries (with the exception of the "special position" of the Turkmen leadership) the importance of regional cooperation, at least at the official level, has led to certain successes in the implementation of regional initiatives.

For example, notable results are the achievement of an agreement among the countries of Central Asia on respect for the state borders inherited after the collapse of the USSR, despite the existence of zones of compact residence of ethnic minorities.

Some progress was made in the sphere of joint struggle against terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. The basis for the development of cooperation on security issues between the countries of the region was the Tashkent Treaty of 21 April 2000 between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on joint actions to combat terrorism, political and religious extremism and transnational organized crime.

In this way, the countries of the region can effectively cooperate to solve common problems in cases where possible profits and benefits, as well as losses in the case of unilateral actions, are distinctly clear.

At the same time, the general dynamics of regional initiatives - both multilateral projects and regional organizations - have remained largely sluggish for many years.

Despite the presence of sufficiently strong integration impulses in the region, the insufficient pace of regional economic integration and the constant threat of further growth of centrifugal tendencies pushed the countries of the region to search for extra-regional partners - some kind of "guarantors" for stability, a source of political, financial and economic support.

But, for the most part, extra-regional forces, primarily the large states bordering the region, considered such regional initiatives as mechanisms for exerting their influence on the region.

In general, assessing attempts to form regional integration structures in Central Asia, it may be noted that the countries of the region have been unable to implement regional-integration projects and the formation of their own regional security system. They could unite neither on the basis of common opportunities and interests, nor on the basis of common threats and challenges. Transition to the market foundations of economic cooperation with a deeper level of cooperation between the countries of the region has not been accomplished.

The policy of Uzbekistan towards Central Asian integration projects

Since 2010, Uzbekistan has consistently declared the development of regional cooperation and integration to be the most important priority of its foreign policy. Uzbekistan acted as one of the initiators of the creation of the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC) in 1994 as well as its transformation into the Central Asian Cooperation (CAC) of the CACO in 2002.

The ideological basis for the participation of Uzbekistan in regional integration projects was fixed by the First President of Uzbekistan in his work "Turkestan is our common home", published in 1995. [1] The main idea was the idea of the geopolitical unity of the territory, called Turkestan, and the need to strengthen the unity of the countries occupying this territory and the need for rapprochement of their peoples.

In other words, the position of Uzbekistan with its participation in the formation of integration associations in the region was that Uzbekistan did not deny the necessity and importance of forming and participating in various integration associations. But at the same time, based on national interests and the chosen model of economic reforms, it put more emphasis on the development of bilateral relations.

When analyzing Uzbekistan's attitude to the formation of certain integration associations in the region and around it, it can be formulated as strongly pragmatic. Uzbekistan has always proceeded from the principle that regional integration institutions and mechanisms and Uzbekistan’s participation in them are possible only when those processes correspond to the goals of the formation of a new Uzbek statehood; the formation of effective political and economic systems; and the creation of conditions for improving the well-being of the population. At the same time, short-term and long-term development benefits have always been the benchmarks.

In other words, foreign policy, decisions about participation/non-participation in certain integration structures and projects were dictated, first of all, by the long-term interests of internal development.

Thus, in the second half of the 1990s, economic policy was aimed at import substitution, the creation of new industries and the support of domestic producers. There was an urgent need to create the main points of economic growth.

Under these conditions, initiatives that imply liberalization of prices, simplification of regional trade and transit, and which are defined as priorities in the creation of integration associations, were unprofitable and unacceptable for Uzbekistan in terms of realizing its own economic strategy.

Abstract arguments about the benefits of regional integration and the expansion of regional trade lost all meaning in the conditions of Uzbekistan in the 1990s, which was in fact an agrarian country, with reformed government apparatus and economic management mechanisms, with predominantly rural low-income population and with a weakly competitive industry that needed restructuring. Special attention had to be paid to the urgency of security problems, both in the economic and military-political spheres.

Uzbekistan was focused on solving internal problems, the solution of which gave a new quality to the political and economic systems and already on this basis gave an opportunity to talk about more in-depth forms of regional integration in Central Asia.

For example, there is no doubt that the transport and transit potential of Central Asia is significant and the region may well become a bridge between a rapidly growing Asia and Europe. But most of the initiatives aimed at implementing transport projects have ended, at best, with mixed results.

Within this framework, Uzbekistan concentrated on the gradual modernization and development of its own transport infrastructure, as it was the task of speedy reformatting the country's spatial framework through the formation of new transport highways that would "tighten" the space / regions of the country with new transport "clamps" and reduce Uzbekistan's dependence on transport corridors in the northern direction.

The implementation of railway construction projects along the routes Navoi/Uchkuduk/ Sultanuizdag/Nukus and Tashguzar/Baysun/ Kumkurgan created a basis for the formation of the meridian axis of the spatial framework of the country: "northwest of Uzbekistan to southwest of Uzbekistan". This transport corridor overlaps the latitudinal (east-west) traffic arteries already in place: Andijan/Tashkent/Samarkand/Bukhara, the key part of which was the construction of the motorway and the electrified railway line Angren/Pap through the Kamchik pass, which provided uninterrupted transport links between the Fergana Valley and the rest of the country. Uzbekistan's participation in the implementation of the Bukhara/Tejen/Serakhs/Bender/Abbas transport corridor ensured the availability of Uzbek goods to the ports of the Persian Gulf. Uzbekistan is an active participant in the formation of transport corridors connecting the countries of Central Asia with China (the eastern direction) and with the countries of the Black Sea basin (the western direction). In the long term, the importance of the multimodal logistics center in Navoi, as a transcontinental transport hub linking the countries of the East and SouthEast Asia with the countries of Europe, the Middle East and the CIS, will increase.

In general, Uzbekistan managed to solve the task of creating a unified transport network linking all regions, creating a basis for balanced spatial development of the country during the transitional period, through the implementation of a number of road and railroad projects inside the country. At the same time, Uzbekistan's active participation in the implementation of several projects for the creation of international transport corridors has made it possible to diversify transport routes for foreign trade.

Uzbekistan within the framework of this policy, opposed various integration "projects" on principle and supported those initiatives that were pragmatic and realistic at the current stage of development.

In particular, Uzbekistan strongly opposed the idea of creating a Union of Central Asian states initiated by the leadership of Kazakhstan, since this idea represented another option for the formation of an integration association, which, for the time being, because of prevailing economic conditions, is premature and unviable. [2]

But at the same time, Uzbekistan has come up with the idea of creating a free-trade zone in Central Asia on the institutional basis of CACO. [3] This initiative of Uzbekistan was voiced at the CACO summit in Astana on May 28, 2004. At the same time, it was proposed to start the formation of this zone from the integration of the two largest economies of the region - Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. And here the logic of Uzbekistan's position is traced - one cannot rush and create integration associations for which the economy, the political and legal systems, the political and economic elites and the population of the countries of the region are not ready.

The following goals of CACO aimed at raising the living standards of the population and the intensive development of the economies of CACO member states have been determined in Uzbekistan:

  • Optimization and rational use of the natural, water-energy and mineral resources and the human potential of Central Asia in the interests of each country included in CACO;
  • The formation of a unified strategy to create a favorable investment climate and conditions for attracting foreign investment to the region.

The realization of this long-term initiative in practice in Uzbekistan was considered possible in three stages (for 10-15 years):

  1. Formation of the Customs Union and the solution of transport and transit problems, which imply the adoption of a single unified mutually agreed tariff system.
  2. Implementation of the provisions of the

Agreement on the establishment of the Free Trade Area.

  1. Establishment of the Common Market of Central Asian countries.

Given the dynamics of the economic transformation processes, the implementation of this initiative could, according to Tashkent, become a real basis for convergence of the national economies of the Central Asian states, which were at different levels of development due to various rates of reforms.

At the same time, a strategic obstacle to the implementation of this initiative, as well as the development of regional cooperation and integration processes in Uzbekistan, was considered strategic uncertainty regarding the further development of Central Asia, largely due to the clash of interests of the world's major powers and countries neighboring the region. In this regard, Uzbekistan advocated the comprehensive development of relations with leading states and international organizations that, not being part of Central Asia, are interested in ensuring the security and sustainable development of the region.

A new stage in the policy of Uzbekistan regarding the implementation of integration initiatives in the post-Soviet space in general and the Central Asian space in particular came after 2010.

The crisis of the Eurasian Economic Community led to the idea of multi-speed integration in the post-Soviet space, actively promoted by the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan at the end of the 2000s.

At the summit of the heads of the EurAsEC member states in Astana on July 5, 2010, it was announced that the Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus had started its full-fledged activity. [4] Within the framework of this Customs Union, a single Customs Code and tariffs will be in force. At the same time, TC members decided to accelerate the formation of the Single Economic Space of the three countries and the constituent documents should be prepared and agreed by January 1, 2011.

It was from this period that a new stage of the active transformation of the post-Soviet space began, and Russia began actively reformatting this space, changing the alignment of forces between the post-Soviet countries, formed in the 1990s and zero years. Within the framework of the Customs Union, Kazakhstan and Belarus, through the Uniform Customs Code, were more clearly and structurally involved in the orbit of Russia's economic and political influence, transferring part of their economic and political sovereignty to supranational bodies.

The failure of the regional integration projects in Central Asia resulted in a split among the countries of the region on the principle of joining certain integration associations. The formation of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan became the point that divided the countries of the region into two groups: the first group of countries includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (and in the long term a dubious Tajikistan); and the second Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which occupy neutral-expectant position on those integration associations where Russia is politically and economically dominant. This dividing line has a long-term character.

It therefore seems that, in the medium term, Uzbekistan will continue the policy of distancing itself from those integration projects dominated by extra-regional powers. This applies not only to Russia, but also, for example, China, which promotes the idea of forming the SCO Free Trade Zone, where, due to the size of its economy, it receives the predominant influence. [5]

To assert, therefore, that the policy of Uzbekistan regarding integration initiatives in the CA region has been one of inactivity does not correspond to the principles of historicism and objective analysis.

The analysis shows that Uzbekistan has been an active participant in integration projects in Central Asia. But it has always been cautious about the integration initiatives that the Russian Federation put forward and envisaged the formation of supranational bodies, with the transfer of certain powers to them in the customs, tariff, fiscal and monetary spheres.

Based on the current realities, the formation of a Central Asian regional integration association seems unlikely. The countries of the region have diverged too far in their foreign policy and foreign economic trajectories and priorities.

A new stage - economic cooperation

Today Uzbekistan is at a new stage of economic development. Uzbekistan has passed through the implementation phase of the policy of import substitution, selective support of individual industries, and rigid non-tariff regulation. We can now say that Uzbekistan is intensifying its policy aimed at export-oriented growth. In addition, institutional transformations in Uzbekistan are basically completed; and a multi-layered economy is formed with its inherent institutions.

Uzbekistan has already reached the stage of development of its economy where regional cooperation will not go against the economic interests of the country but, on the contrary, will allow it to receive benefits.

Efforts made over the whole period under discussion has prepared the country for future realization of larger integration initiatives where Uzbekistan can participate in conditions favorable to it.

In the medium term, one can already expect, if not breakthroughs, then major shifts in integration initiatives. On the one hand, all the countries of the region, and in particular Uzbekistan, have resolved the task of forming a new statehood. With, to a greater or lesser degree, the participation of the state, all countries have built market economies.

The economy of Uzbekistan today demonstrates high growth rates. [6] In the foreseeable future, Uzbekistan faces the challenge of moving to an export-oriented economy that is able to attract and effectively absorb investment, both internal and external. And for this, the national economy should be more open and integrated into the regional and world economy. The very logic of the economic reforms which Uzbekistan plans to implement in the coming years will stimulate the search for acceptable forms of regional integration.

At the same time, it is important to note the qualitative difference in the current situation in that, in one way or another, in all countries of the region the private sector / capital has taken shape and serious financial and industrial groups are being formed. Today, the "order" for regional integration, including that in Uzbekistan, will come from business, the player who is able to give a qualitatively new content to regional initiatives. Today, a business, which creates a gross national product and jobs is interested in reducing barriers and transaction costs in regional-commodity turnover.

Successful implementation of the processes of regional cooperation and integration is impossible without ensuring the compatibility of the economic systems of the countries of the region, which first of all requires national governments to take several steps to harmonize legislation regulating economic activity, the convergence of macroeconomic indicators and the formation of institutions responsible for the implementation of regional projects etc.

Central Asia can become one of the fastest growing regions in the future. However, the opportunities and quality of this growth will be determined by the pace and formats of regional cooperation between the countries of the region.

The best way is to gradually build economic ties between the countries of the region in those areas and in the forms to which the countries of the region are ready. It may be the formation of the economic axis Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan. It may be a deepening of the economic ties between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. [7]

The basis for the formation of new formats for regional economic cooperation at the current stage can be the harmonization and integration of the transport and communication potential of the countries of the region (primarily Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan).

These countries implement transport-sector development strategies and this sector invests heavily in investments. But today the task is to integrate these national transport strategies and form a single Central Asian transport-transit hub of continental importance. Proceeding from the fact that all countries in the transport-transit sense are dependent on each other, a unified approach is needed to unite country efforts. And why not make this request a basis for setting up intensive format cooperation ties?

Uzbekistan in the near and medium term will not participate in the integration structures formed today in the post-Soviet space. And here, first of all, the EAEU is needed.

But Uzbekistan is a key state in Central Asia. It has an interest in forging deeper ties with the EAEU countries. At the same time, the largest markets in the Central Asian region are of interest to the countries of the EAEU.

In these conditions, it seems expedient to formulate new initiatives in this direction, interesting and acceptable both for the EAEU and for Uzbekistan. In particular, one of the options may be the formation of a Free Trade Zone between the EAEU and Uzbekistan. Why not? The formation of such a FTA can become a serious foundation for deepening cooperation and the gradual harmonization of the legislative and regulatory framework, standards and norms of the EAEU and Uzbekistan. If the EAEU is ready to create a FTA with Vietnam, Israel and Turkey, then there is no less reason to consider a developing Uzbekistan as a partner.



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  6. Since 2006, annual GDP growth has averaged 7%
  7. Эргашев Б. региональные шахматы в Центральной азии: роль узбекистана и казахстана// CABAR. – 2017. – 16 марта// ru/bahtier-ergashev-regionalnye-shahmaty-v-tsentralnoj-azii-rol-uzbekistana-i- kazahstana/
Year: 2017
City: Almaty