Indo-Kazakh trade, IT ties set to get major boost during Nazarbayev’s state visit

By Ashok Dixit

With just about a fortnight left for the state visit to India of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, bilateral ties between the two countries is being firmed up not only in the crucial energy sector, but also in non-energy sectors.

Disclosing this in an exclusive interview to ANI Thursday evening, Zhanar S. Aitzhanova, Kazakhstan’s Vice Minister of Industry and Trade and her country’s chief negotiator at World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession negotiations, confirmed that Kazakhstan has sought India’s assistance in setting up of industrial clusters in textiles, besides cooperation in areas of hi-technology and financial services.

Aitzhanova, who arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday and is returning to Astana today, revealed that her talks with Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh and Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai on Thursday had been “very positive” on the above issues, as also on the issue of raising the level of cooperation in the energy sector.

She also said that in the wake of India getting clearance from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to conduct civilian nuclear commerce with other countries, Kazakhstan, which possesses the second largest uranium reserves in the world after Australia, is actively considering a proposal to offer uranium to India.

When asked whether there were any obstacles from the Indian side to Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO, Aitzhanova told ANI: “We (Kazakhstan) have completed bilateral (WTO-related) talks with 22 countries so far.

We have four countries left - India, the United States, the European Union (which has 27 member states) and Saudi Arabia (which is a new entrant).

India has been very positive and fully supports our endeavor for accession to the WTO. We are very much looking forward to bilateral relations between India and Kazakhstan being further strengthened during the forthcoming visit of our President Nursultan Nazarbayev (between January 23 and 26).”

While accepting India’s need for energy security, and the significant role that Kazakhstan could and is playing in this regard, Minister Aitzhanova said a “key long-term” goal of her country’s bid for accession to the WTO was “diversification of the economy” and introduction of a “liberal regulatory framework” in the services sector.

She revealed that the Kazakhstan Government is actively reforming its economic policies as per existing WTO guidelines, and has “intensified negotiations with other countries in the last three to four years.”

The country, she said, is enjoying an annual GDP growth of between nine to ten percent (aggregate GDP pegged at 135 billion USD), and has so far attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) of 72 billion US dollars.

To emphasize how this robust growth is benefiting the people of Kazakhstan, Aitzhanova said that among the 15 former Soviet states (Now known as CIS), “Kazakhstan enjoys the highest FDI per capita (about 8000 USD)”, and added that 80 percent of the FDI attraction is due to the country’s “open economic policies and its decision to explore external economic interaction beyond CIS boundaries”.

In the context of trade ties with India, she told ANI that a sign of progress could be seen in the fact that in 2004, trade between the two countries was valued at 80 million dollars, and by the first ten months of 2008, this had gone up to a mammoth 232 million dollars. Of this, she said oil and allied exports have contributed 100 million dollars, asbestos has contributed 15 million dollars and metal exports have contributed 20 million dollars.

Talks between the two governments were now focused on cooperation in the agricultural/dairy sector, medicine and health-related accessories, meat products, textiles and information technology-related skills and services, Aitzhanova added.

She said that during the forthcoming visit of President Nazarbayev, India and Kazakstan would be signing three Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), including one on bilateral cooperation on technical standards and services, an agreement for the protection of intellectual property rights and geographical indications (GI) for products such as Basmati Rice, Alphonso Mangoes and Darjeeling Tea.

“We have had very fruitful, constructive and mutually beneficial discussions today (Thursday). No problems between the two countries on terms of trade and economic cooperation We are discussing terms under which qualified specialists from India will be providing services in Kazakhstan. Both countries and their respective governments are in agreement over recognizing safety standards on technical regulations for products that are imported from India to Kazakhstan and from Kazakhstan to India,” said Aitzhanova

“We have agreed on future cooperation in various fields like textile products, textile companies to visit India. We also have talked about cooperation in the IT sector, and we have agreed to an Indian proposal to set up an IT training school in Kazakstan, as we believe that foundations and skills have to be taught first before they can applied to larger schemes. We will also be signing an agreement on concession on services, where we will be stipulating very clearly terms under which Indian companies can provide their services, particularly in interesting spheres like IT, construction and architecture. We hope and look forward to concrete outcomes of these negotiations, and they are taking place these days, and will continue during the visit,” she added.

She concluded by saying that Kazakhstan is keen to give Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, as it sees New Delhi as a close ally and an emerging economic giant. (ANI)