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EU, Uzbekistan Meet at Brussels

EU, Uzbekistan to revive cooperation after the Karimov era

Monday 17 July 2017, by Catherine BISSON-SERIAN

BRUSSELS — The European Union and Uzbekistan are to hold the highest-level political meeting in Brussels since the death of Islam Karimov in 2016. During the visit, the Uzbek delegation is expected to hold bilateral negotiations with foreign ministers from the EU and Belgium.

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Abdulaziz Komilov
Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2012. Previously he served in the same post from 1994 to 2003

According to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, the meeting will be held July 17and the Uzbekistan’s delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov. Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, will chair the meeting and is expected to bring up issues including reforms, human rights, and the rule of law.

It is expected that Uzbekistan and the EU will sign an agreement on financing the new project on development of agriculture in the country.

Trade and economic relations

Uzbekistan and the EU signed an agreement on partnership and cooperation in 1996. The EU’s diplomatic representation was opened in Uzbekistan in 2012. Financial aid in the amount of €168 mln was approved for the country for 2014-2020. These funds will be used to improve the irrigation infrastructure, introduce renewable energy sources in agribusiness, and promote a program to create new jobs in the regions.

Under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) Uzbekistan and the EU grant each other most-favoured-nation treatment with respect to:

  • Custom duties and charges applied to imports and exports;
  • Direct and indirect taxes applied to imported goods; and
  • Rules relating to the sale, purchase, transport, distribution and use of goods on the domestic market.

The PCA also provides for the removal of all quantitative restrictions on trade between the EU and Uzbekistan, with provisions to protect domestic producers in cases where they may be harmed by imports. In addition, the PCA provides for economic cooperation with a view to ensuring that Uzbekistan’s international trade is conducted in conformity with the rules of the WTO. Following the consent of the European Parliament to the ‘Textile Protocol’ amending the PCA, the relevant provisions of the PCA will now also apply to the bilateral trade in textile products.

Uzbekistan benefits from the EU Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) — an autonomous trade arrangement whereby the EU provides non-reciprocal preferential access to the EU market to developing countries. The GSP, designed to contribute to the growth of economies in developing countries, ensures that exporters from these countries pay lower or no duties on some or all of the products that they sell to the EU.

Development cooperation

The EU’s development cooperation with Uzbekistan and other countries in Central Asia is based on a multi-annual regional cooperation strategy adapted to the situation and needs of each country.

The Government of Uzbekistan embarked upon a structural reform aiming at transforming a Soviet-style economy based on cotton and its primary processing to an industrial and agro-industrial economy. The EU Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020 supports this development policy shift — it earmarks €168 mln for support to Rural Development in four subsectors:

  1. diversification/productivity;
  2. sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems;
  3. employment and income generation;
  4. enhancement of socio-economic living standards of the most vulnerable groups in rural areas.

This allocation under the EU Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) is complemented by several thematic programmes, including the Instrument for Stability, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the Non-State Actor programme, as well as assistance provided by a number of EU Member States. Thematic cooperation also covers human and social development, sustainable management of natural resources, nuclear safety, and migration and asylum. Uzbekistan is also eligible for the Investment Facility for Central Asia (IFCA), which was launched in 2010 to blend EU development assistance with loans from European financial institutions for the 5 countries in Central Asia. In 2017 the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has renewed its cooperation with Uzbekistan. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is also in discussions to conclude a framework agreement with the country.

The Central Asia region is particularly prone to natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods and landslides. Improving the capacity of national institutions and local communities to prepare for and respond to disaster is a priority for EU humanitarian action in the region. Under its current Disaster Preparedness Programme, the Commission is funding community-based initiatives to increase the resilience of the population to recurrent disaster. Between 1994 and 2015, EU humanitarian funding to Central Asia has been in excess of €222 mln.

The European Commission considers that the new leadership of Uzbekistan under President Mirziyoyev has launched significant reforms of the judiciary, administration and security services and is making strides to improve the business climate. The EU encourages these and other reforms and in particular their effective implementation. Several human rights defenders have recently been released from prison and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the country for the first time in May this year.

The EU has engaged with the new leadership through repeated visits of the European Parliament, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, European Financial Institutions and officials from the European External Action Service and the European Commission. This process is complemented by concrete measures to support the Uzbek reforms, for example cooperation to implement the EU-Uzbekistan Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy has been renewed in February 2017. In November 2017 Uzbekistan will host the EU – Central Asia meeting of foreign ministers in Samarkand.

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