Kazakhstan and Afghanistan are participating in active discussions to enter the World Trade Organization, said Director General Roberto Azevedo. The accession negotiations of Kazakhstan in particular are now “at an advanced stage of maturity and on the threshold of conclusion,” according to Azevedo’s statement. The expected date of matriculation will be early next year. Afghanistan is also in negotiations, having received approval for its draft deal in March, but a final agreement would need “additional signaling from Kabul” which postponed a final meeting (under Karzai) to seal the deal. Currently, other countries under consideration are Algeria, the Bahamas, Belarus, and Serbia.
It is unclear how this will affect economic agreements between members of the Customs Union like Kazakhstan and Belarus, and whether WTO restrictions will play into interstate relationships between member states or if they regulate only interactions with other WTO member states. Candidate countries for the WTO must cut tariffs and change their rules to guarantee rights of importers and exporters under WTO rules. Regardless, this issue is sure to create some high level discussions between Moscow and Astana.
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- US Deputy Secretary of State for Central Asia Daniel Rosenblum reassured the TAPI consortium yesterday that the realization of the TAPI project remained a vital US interest in the region, and with new powers granted by the signing of the bilateral security agreement in September with Ashraf Ghani, American forces are permitted once again to engage in combat operations without the presence of Afghan national army troops, adding some teeth to the guarantee that US forces would protect the pipeline’s construction. The pipeline is planned to run close to American bases.
- The Federal Drug Control Service of Russia has issued a statement claiming that the Islamic State is obtaining its income by providing heroin from Afghanistan to distribution channels in Europe. These comments were widely reported in the Russia media, with FSKN chief Viktor Ivanov stating that “the large scale transit of Afghan heroin acts as a renewable financial base for the functioning of the Islamic State group…” This backs up a report by Spanish intelligence which states that European cells of IS were using ties to the illegal drug trade to finance operations in Iraq and Syria. However, these claims should not be taken as definitive proof that Afhgan heroin is being used as financing, as illegal terrorist cells must, by their very existence, use illegal sources of funding to keep their operations supported.
- Turkmenistan recently held elections for local and city councils on November 23, but they did not receive much coverage or interest – with only 50 seats and 51 candidates, the election held no surprises. According to Turkmen election officials, turnout was an astronomical 92.76%. This might be due to the practice of allowing the head of household to vote for the number of dependents that he or she reports.
- Some students of Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was imprisoned for life in China in September, are now on trial as well. The students are accused of contributing to a website run by Tohti on the Uighur population – which is sure to raise more calls to action by human rights groups, most of whom roundly condemned Tohti’s sentence. The court proceedings of the students are secret, and not even the courts will confirm the trials are even taking place. The website in question is the now-defunct Uighur Online, which promoted discussion between Uighurs and other ethnic groups in China. Authorities claim it promoted separatism.
- Ashraf Ghani, at a conference between South Asian countries in Kathmandu, declared he would not let his country become the site of another proxy war in response to new tensions between Pakistan and India. He told both Prime Ministers this in public, but privately, accepted an invitation to visit India from Narendra Modi in 2015.
- The city of Donetsk in Ukraine is continuing to suffer from the scarcity created by an artificial blockade by Ukrainian forces. The city itself, controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, is under heavy artillery and rocket barrages almost daily. Collateral damage has left parts of the city without running water and most of it without electricity. Merchandise is still getting through the blockade, but pensioners in particular are suffering under the grinding poverty of life in the warzone.