Pakistani President to boost cooperation with Tajikistan & Uzbekistan

Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and signed a series of documents aimed at closer cooperation with Uzbekistan. The two leaders signed multiple memorandums of understanding, and finance ministers signed a protocol to increase bilateral cooperation and prevent double taxation. Sharif met last weekend with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to reach tentative agreements on three road projects that would ease transport between Pakistan and Tajikistan, and the two leaders signed deals aimed at increasing defense cooperation and their trade relationship up to $500 million in the next three years. Sharif stressed cooperation with Central Asian states as a key aspect of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Cooperation with Central Asia is a crucial part of plans to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an offshoot of China’s New Silk Road project for Central Asia under which Pakistan is slated to develop into a transport hub for the region. Proposed by China in 2013, the corridor would run from Kashgar in China’s west to Gwadar, Pakistan, expected to develop into a major free trade port on the Arabian Sea with assistance from China. Pakistan and China signed an agreement in April for China to finance Chinese companies to complete $46 billion of energy and infrastructure projects along the proposed corridor, including the renovation of the Karakoram Highway this year linking western China with Pakistan through Tajikistan and Afghanistan. For its part, Pakistan has taken further steps to strengthen ties with Central Asian states, including Sharif’s current visit to Tashkent and an August visit to Kazakhstan, where he agreed with President Nursultan Nazarbayev to boost cooperation in the defense, energy, science and information technology sectors.

Sharif thanked Uzbekistan for its support of Pakistan’s candidacy for accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in which Pakistan is slated to become a full member in 2016. An Express Tribune article observes that the two countries, both run by secular governments with invested interests in preventing terrorism in the region, intend to work more closely through international organizations on matters of trade and security. Sharif also commented to Rahmon that the new infrastructure projects would increase trade between the two countries and change the region’s economic outlook.

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News Briefs:

  • European Union (EU) diplomats told RFERL reporters that the EU is considering direct talks with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a move it has so far avoided. Eurasianet.org disclosed that the diplomats would only say that “the usual suspects” were responsible for paving the way for talks with the EAEU, which some eastern EU member states have decried as an endeavor seeming to placate Russia, and may pressure states inside of Russia’s orbit to choose between either one or the other trade union. An EU-Ukraine trade pact, delayed in 2013 due to Russian concerns, is set to come into effect on January 1, 2016. Observers state that the EU is likely to consider more sanctions against Russia in December over its role in Ukraine and support for separatists implicated in mounting violence in Ukraine’s east in the last week, and that a direct EU overture to the EAEU would preserve opportunities for cooperation with Russia in other sectors, most notably that of resolving the conflict in Syria.
  • Trend reported that at the G-20 summit, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev claimed work was well under way on the construction of the Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic Pipleines, necessary for the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor, although he did not give a concrete timeline for the project’s end, casting doubt on the veracity of the President’s proclamation. The Corridor is funded by $45 billion from European countries. It has been planned since 2008, an alternative to Russia’s proposed Turkish Stream project, which would supply gas to European Union countries through Turkey. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev was quoted thanking Turkey for its cooperation on moving the project forward, and praising the UK and Italy for their steady investment in projects in Azerbaijan. Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Ali Reza Alaboyuna commented that Azerbaijan provides a guarantee on gas supply to the EU that Russia cannot, given the current political situation. Azerbaijan currently supplies 15% of Turkey’s gas, and was Italy’s largest oil supplier in 2014.
  • Kazakhstan’s National Chamber of Entrepreneurs (NCE) is working with Samruk Kazyna National Welfare Fund to create a new system of industrial certification planned to replace the current ST-KZ certification of domestic production. Deputy Chairman of the NCE Nurzhan Altayev reported that the two organizations also plan to create a register of bona fide suppliers of domestic products. The current ST-KZ system takes two days after registration to issue certification, and provides licensing up to one year. Altayev stated that the new system would make it easier for producers of domestic goods to go through the registration process, noting that of 95 companies audited since August, only 40 met the requirements to be officially considered as domestic goods producers.
  • Russian Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov stated that Russia has made an interesting, 11th-hour offer to Ukraine regarding its debt to Russia, but refused to provide any more details on the proposal. Reuters claimed that coming after a meeting with International Monetary Fund (IMF) President Christine Lagarde, Siluanov’s comments speak to a shift in Russia’s long-held position that Ukraine must pay back its $3 billion debt to Russia in full by December 20, and a potential change in IMF rules stipulating that loans may not be extended to countries with outstanding debt to other governments. While Ukraine reached a debt restructuring deal with all of its other creditors in October, Russia has so far refused to allow Ukraine any leeway in the repayment in full of bonds due to mature in December.
  • The National Bank of Tajikistan revoked the licenses and certification of seven microloan organizations, its press wing reported. CA-News.org stated that the organizations will be excluded from the national register of creditors, and that the Bank has been charged with developing a commission to deal with the formalities of liquidating de-licensed organizations. The bank revoked the licenses of at least five microcredit organizations last year, all with the reason that the organizations had not been in operation for a long time, and had not submitted accurate reports of their operations to the government.
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