First, after the visit of Shavkat Mirziyoyev to France, the dialogue intensified in terms of the implementation of the agreements reached between the leaders of the two countries.
To the 29th anniversary of Independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Dynamics of economic diplomacy
In 2018, the message “Visit to France of the President-Reformer of Uzbekistan to France” posted on the French website “Radio France Internationale” says that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who for two years has been leading the country with the largest population in Central Asia, is developing the economy of Uzbekistan at a qualitatively new stage. One of the most important directions of the new foreign policy of Shavkat Mirziyoyev was the development of economic diplomacy. In the context that Uzbekistan and France have established the most favored nation treatment in mutual trade, the Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation of Income and the Prevention of Evasion of Taxes on Income and Capital is in force, Uzbek-French relations demonstrate an even more complex, substantive and systemic nature.
First, after the visit of Shavkat Mirziyoyev to France, the dialogue intensified in terms of the implementation of the agreements reached between the leaders of the two countries. Thus, the republic was visited in 2019 by the Secretary of State of the French Foreign Ministry Jean-B. Lemoyne, and in 2019 and 2020, the special representative of this Ministry for Economic Diplomacy in Central Asia P. Loro. In September 2019, negotiations were held between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov and J.-B. Lemoine in Paris, and in November of the same year, at the initiative of the Embassy of Uzbekistan in France, a lunch was organized, which was attended by J.-B. Lemoine and the ambassadors of central Asian countries. The Program of Cooperation between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan and France for 2019-2020 was signed.
In May 2020, online negotiations were organized between Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Sardor Umurzakov and Minister of Economy and Finance of France B. Le Maire. Along with the discussions of the existing agreements, the French side also expressed its readiness to provide comprehensive support to Uzbekistan in matters of accession to the World Trade Organization, Uzbekistan’s obtaining the status of a beneficiary country of the European Union’s GSP+ system of preferences and signing the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU. In June 2020, for the first time, a videoconference of parliamentarians of the two countries was held, the current state of inter-parliamentary cooperation and action plans for the second half of 2020 were discussed, an agreement was reached on the development and signing of a memorandum of cooperation, including a roadmap.
Secondly, there is a positive dynamics of trade and economic cooperation. Uzbekistan is one of France’s leading trading partners in the Central Asian region. At the end of 2019, the trade turnover between the countries amounted to 345.7 million US dollars, which is 1.3 times more compared to 2016. At the same time, the negative balance of Uzbekistan in trade with France was a characteristic trend of trade and economic cooperation. However, in recent years, it has changed from a negative to a positive balance. Thus, in 2019, Uzbekistan’s exports increased by 1.7 times compared to 2016, amounting to $ 205.7 million. Traditionally, the main export items of Uzbekistan are natural resources, in recent years the importance of exports of services has been growing, their share is already about 14 percent. The structure of imports includes chemical, perfumery, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products and equipment.
An important event was the opening in 2019 in Paris of the Uzbek-French trading house “UzFrance Trade”, designed to expand the presence and popularity of a wide range of Uzbek products in the French market. In particular, with the assistance of the trading house, the opening of the first joint Uzbek-French enterprise in France, which specializes in packing and packaging dried fruits and vegetables from Uzbekistan, was worked out. The export of dried fruits and vegetables is considered a new and promising direction in the trade of the two countries.
Thirdly, the interest of the French business community in the growing market of Uzbekistan has increased. In 2019, an Uzbek-French business forum was held in Tashkent. A solid French delegation consisting of representatives of leading 30 concerns and financial institutions presented more than 20 business projects and discussed the possibility of investing in the real sector of the economy of Uzbekistan. In particular, in such industries as energy and nuclear energy, engineering services and civil engineering, production of building materials, logistics, electrical engineering, cosmetics and other areas.
The interest of the French business community is also confirmed by statistical data. So, in 2020 in Uzbekistan, the number of enterprises with the participation of French capital increased by more than 1.5 times compared to the previous year, and amounted to 36 enterprises, including 16 enterprises with 100 percent French capital. According to Pascal Loro, this is due to the fact that Uzbekistan began to open up to foreign investors, and the visit of Shavkat Mirziyoyev to France gave a new impetus and dynamics to the development of trade and economic cooperation. As a result, “many French firms are now coming to Uzbekistan, occupying strong positions, because it is the second economy of the region and the first country here in terms of population,” Loro added. Chairman of the French-Uzbek Business Council of MEDEF International C. Fontaine, supporting the opinion of his colleague, noted: “Uzbekistan stands out as one of the most dynamic and attractive economic regions for business in Central Asia, especially over the past three years, which, according to the general opinion of French companies, are marked by a “new era” thanks to the deep reforms undertaken by the President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Mirziyoyev, to improve the business environment.”
At the initiative of the business circles of the two countries, in 2019, an Uzbek-French business club began its activities in Paris with the status of a non-governmental non-profit organization, and the opening of a residence is also expected in Tashkent. The purpose of the club is to promote business activity and the development of trade and economic cooperation between France and Uzbekistan, as well as the formation of an Uzbek-French business platform for negotiations and exchange of information. Representatives of the club also became members of the Foreign Investors Council under the President of Uzbekistan. “The club plans to create an expert center in Tashkent to conduct research in various fields,” said club president Gulnara Kholmatova.
Fourthly, financial and technical cooperation is being strengthened through the French Development Agency, whose activities are aimed at promoting economic growth and sustainable development in developing countries. The Central Asian representative office of the agency was accredited in Tashkent in 2018. The choice of Tashkent is a political step that once again emphasizes the importance of Uzbekistan in the region for France. In the same year, for the first time, bilateral consultations of the agency with the government of Uzbekistan were held. They have acquired the status of annual and open new sources of financing for the economy of the republic. Deputy Director of the Agency J.-C. Pires noted: “The consultations were very productive, and it is a great honor for me to celebrate this very important moment in order to establish long-term cooperation between the FAR and Uzbekistan.”
The French Development Agency signed a Cooperation Program with Uzbekistan for 2018-2021 on the implementation of infrastructure projects totaling about 600 million euros. Priority projects are in the field of agriculture, water supply and sewerage, hydropower, tourism, district heating and waste management. With the participation of the agency, such projects as “Modernization of solid waste management in Samarkand”, “Improving the safe operation of the Charvak HPP” are being implemented, and the implementation of new 13 projects in priority areas is being worked out today.
Fifth, major investment projects with French partners were launched. Among them are projects for geological exploration and development of uranium deposits in Navoi region with Orano, for the production of water and dairy products in Namangan region with Lactalis, design of all types of electrical networks and energy facilities with Assystem Engineering and Operation Services S.A.S., production of architectural and automotive glass in Jizzakh region with FIVES, construction of photovoltaic power plants in Samarkand region with the company “Total Eren” and others. Fabien Demol, Senior Vice President of Total Eren, said: “We are very proud that our project will be the first large-scale renewable energy project in Uzbekistan and one of the country’s first international projects in solar energy, which will provide electricity to more than 150 thousand people.”
Recently, the Khokimiyat of Tashkent, the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services and SUEZ signed a contract for 142 million euros to modernize and improve the city’s water supply system. Eric Gibaly, Director of International Development at SUEZ, emphasized: “Without a doubt, I believe that Uzbekistan is turning into a Central Asian regional hub. We intend to make Uzbekistan – in particular, the dynamically developing capital of the country – Tashkent and the legendary Samarkand a starting point for the development of our business in the Central Asian region. The seven-year contract includes the implementation of intelligent water management solutions, as well as staff training. I am confident that this project to modernize the water sector of Uzbekistan, which is a pilot project, will become the pearl of Central Asia in the future.”
Another major project is the creation of an international all-season resort “Beldersai-Chimgan-Nanai” in the Tashkent region, the implementation of which is planned with a consortium of French companies. According to Pascal Loro, “… it will soon be the largest ski resort in the Central Asian region.” As can be seen, the interest of French investors is quite diversified in the market of Uzbekistan.
Sixth, there is a new trend of development in terms of cooperation between the regions of Uzbekistan and France. In particular, the Uzbek diplomatic mission in Paris pays considerable attention to the interaction of the business circles of France with the khokimiyats of Jizzakh and Namangan regions. Visits of French partners in these areas are systematically organized to discuss business projects, as well as to participate in business forums.
Along with this, in 2018, a Joint Communiqué on Cooperation between the Khokimiyat of Tashkent and the Strasbourg City Hall was adopted and an agreement on partnership in the industrial sphere for 2018-2021 was signed. And in 2019, the hakim of Tashkent received the mayor of the 7th arrondissement of the city of Paris and a member of the European Parliament Rashida Dati. During the meeting, the possibilities of expanding trade and economic cooperation between the cities, as well as the opening of a branch of the University of Strasbourg in Tashkent were discussed.
Seventh, the tourism sector is becoming an important area of bilateral cooperation. In 2016, Uzbekistan was visited by 4.7 thousand tourists from France, and in 2020 – about 20.4 thousand. During the period under review, the number of tourists increased by more than 4.3 times.
This growth was facilitated by: visa-free entry for French citizens with a period of 30 days starting from October 2018, participation in international tourism exhibitions in France with a national stand – “Tourissima Lille”, “Mahana”, “Mondial du Tourisme”, “Top Resa”, popularization of the Uzbek tourist brand in the leading French media – Le Point, Radio France International, Diplomatic World, Gala Magazine and others. In particular, the magazine “Gala Magazine” with the headlines “Uzbekistan is a country of great opportunities”, “Uzbekistan is an open-air museum” devoted 45 pages of its publication to the cultural and historical heritage of the republic. And another well-known French publication “GEO” included Uzbekistan in the list of “The most amazing places of 2020”.
In the post-pandemic period, further growth of this segment is expected. This will be facilitated by the above activities, the implementation of the Framework Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Tourism, signed between the governments of Uzbekistan and France, as well as the first honorary consulate of France in Samarkand, which opened in 2019 in Central Asia.
Professor Emmanuel Dupuis,
President of the Institute for Forecast and Security in Europe
Associate Professor of Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies
Professor of Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies