Kazakhstan Roundtable: Belt and Road in the Spotlight

On February 26, TBY met with the Governing Board members of the Kazakhstan Foreign Investors’ Council Association (KFICA), a Council chaired by President of Republic of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev, to discuss how Kazakhstan may be affected by the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

With some of the country’s leading policymakers, investors, consultants, and financiers, TBY’s roundtable was organized jointly with the KFICA, and held at the Ritz Carlton Almaty. The KFICA represents the 33 investor companies selected by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to be members of his Foreign Investors’ Council and to advise him and the Kazakhstan government on important investment issues.

The BRI is a trillion dollar infrastructure, transportation, and communication network connecting China with Europe via Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. Its visionaries hope it will be the new Silk Road of our times. As Erlan Khairov, Chairman of the Committee on Investments, Ministry of Investments and Development, explains, “it consists of a series of special priority projects between the two countries, some 51 undertakings worth a total USD27.7 billion.”

Once completed, the BRI will crisscross Kazakhstan starting from its flagship project on the Kazakh-Chinese border, the Khorgos Dry Port, which supported by Chinese largest logistic company Cosco Shipping.

The roundtable speakers touched on many themes. Several commented on the opportunities provided by Kazakhstan’s location. Agris Preimanis, the KFICA Governing Board Chairman and the Kazakhstan Country Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said, “the location of Kazakhstan used to be a disadvantage: it was far away from everywhere. Now, when you look at the Belt and Road Initiative, the complete opposite has occurred: It is the first country on the road from China to Europe.”

Erlan Dosymbekov, KFICA Governing Board Treasurer, EY Managing Partner for Kazakhstan and Central Asia, highlighted that “Kazakhstan is positioned very well to be the driving force to make the region an attractive place to do business for investors, which is a great opportunity to diversify the economy.”

Other roundtable participants noted the holistic impacts the BRI would have, since its benefits stretch to all economic sectors. For one, Curtis Masters, KFICA Governing Board Secretary, & Director of Baker & McKenzie, Almaty, said, “the most exciting thing about the BRI is that it is focused on areas such as finance, logistics, transportation, and digitalization, not natural resources.”

Andrey Kurilin, KFICA Governing Board Member and CEO of Citibank, Kazakhstan also noted, “Once the Eurasian land bridge is in place, the biggest portion of it will go through Kazakhstan. This is when the whole New Silk Road will really start delivering practical dividends.”

Ay≈üe Valentin, CEO of TBY, commented that “TBY has long been following the ins and outs of the Kazakhstani economy. The BRI has been much awaited, and much discussed. However, TBY’s roundtable has unpicked some of the more complex issues surrounding the initiative, framing different perspectives, and addressing the challenges and opportunities specific business segments may face.”

Full coverage of the roundtable can be found in The Business Year: Kazakhstan 2018. This will be published in 1H2018 and will feature the views and insights of around 120 senior executives and government officials across all sectors, obtained through face-to-face interviews in the country. Besides such interviews, TBY will feature sector analyses, focus articles, and contributions from foreign guest speakers discussing their country’s bilateral relations with Kazakhstan. The publication will be widely distributed both locally and internationally, as well as at major economic events, investment forums, and conferences.