Remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko at the roundtable at “Euractiv” “EU-Kazakhstan relations: From security issues to regional cooperation”

Brussels, 30 January 2019

I am grateful to “Euractiv" for providing its platform for regular meetings on topical issues of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the European Union.

** Kazakhstan – EU cooperation**

EPCA

Over the past 25 years, Kazakhstan and the EU have built a solid framework of relations, made even stronger with the landmark signing of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between Kazakhstan and the European Union and its member states on 21 December 2015. This Agreement marks a new phase in our bilateral relations and significantly expands the legal framework for cooperation in numerous areas for the benefit of our citizens.

We are optimistic about the prospects of seeing EPCA enter into force this year, taking into account that it has already been ratified by 25 EU Member States and the European Parliament that had voted on December 2017 in favour of concluding the EPCA with Kazakhstan. Ratifications by Cyprus, the Netherlands and Italy are expected in due course.

Once fully in force, it will usher in a new chapter in productive cooperation between Kazakhstan and the EU across the 29 areas covered by the agreement ranging from international and regional security to developing the infrastructure as well as innovations, culture, sport and tourism. The trade segment of the agreement, which is the prerogative of the European Commission, has been in force since the provisional application of the agreement began in May 2016.

In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, in collaboration with European partners, plans to develop a roadmap for implementing the EPCA to ensure its goal-oriented and continuous implementation after the Agreement fully enters into force.

The European Union is Kazakhstan's biggest trade and investment partner, now accounting for almost half of our external trade. Europe is a major market for oil and gas originating from Kazakhstan, which contributes to the continent's overall energy security.

In January-November last year, the trade turnover amounted to 34 billion US dollars (in 2017 - $30 billion). The EU's share is nearly half of the total turnover of Kazakhstan – being at 49.8 percent.

The volume of foreign direct investments attracted from the EU to the economy of Kazakhstan in first half of 2018 amounted to 12.3 billion US dollars (2017 - 9.8 billion US dollars). The main investor countries are The Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Germany and Luxembourg.

Thanks to modernisation, digitisation, introduction of innovative technologies and improvement of the business climate, Kazakhstan intends not only to increase the growth rates of the economy, but also to attract additional investments in priority sectors.

In this regard, new and broader prospects for developing cooperation with Kazakhstan are opening up for European investors. I would like to call more actively use existing opportunities and work on attracting interested European companies to working with Kazakhstan in mutually beneficial partnership.

Facilitation of the Visa Regime

The results of meetings of the EU Visa Working Party held in September and December 2017, during which a majority of EU Member States expressed their support for starting negotiations on a visa facilitation agreement for citizens of Kazakhstan and the EU, in parallel with an agreement on readmission, signalled the beginning of an important chapter in Kazakhstan-EU cooperation.

We hope the European Commission will finalize its work on amending EU Visa Code as soon as possible so we can begin relevant negotiations on this important endeavour.

Our common efforts to strengthen business ties are inseparably linked to the goal of ensuring better mobility for our citizens. In this regard, we view the issue of visa facilitation as a priority step towards further development of mutually beneficial cooperation between Kazakhstan and the European Union, as it will not only reinforce social, cultural and economic ties but also serve to strengthen people-to-people contacts.

Kazakhstan has not posed and will not pose an immigration risk to the European Union. We seek to ease doing business for Kazakh and European entrepreneurs, and also to facilitate the flows of tourists and students. The visa facilitation issue is also an important component of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA).

** Security issues **

Terrorism and drug trafficking

Challenges such as countering terrorism and extremism, combating drug trafficking, organized crime and illegal migration, ensuring border security and others remain high on our regional agenda.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017-2018, Kazakhstan promoted the common interests of the states of Central Asia and Afghanistan, promoting topical issues for the region in the field of security at the Council.

We need to further increase our efforts to respond promptly and effectively to the challenges in the region. Implementing effective counter-terrorism actions requires active interaction between regional structures, governments, law enforcement agencies, academia, and civil society.

At the UN, as a majorcontribution to the fight against international terrorism, Kazakhstan has initiated the adoption of a Code of Conduct for achieving a world free from terrorism.

On September 28, 2018, on the margins of the general political discussion of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, the Code was signed by the foreign ministers and other authorized persons from more than 70 countries from different regions of the world (currently 78 states have signed up to the Code).

The code is innovative because, for the first time, it recognizes the interdependence of security, counter-terrorism and development.

Kazakhstan is firmly committed to international and regional cooperation in combating illegal drug trafficking. We highly appreciate and fully support the relevant activities of international and regional organizations.

We express our appreciation and interest in continuing the implementation of the EU programs such as BOMCA (the Border Management Programme in Central Asia) and CADAP (Central Asia Drug Action Programme), as well as the Central Asian Border Security Initiative (CABSI), implemented by a consortium of member states of the European Union, which have proven themselves as useful instruments.

Security Initiatives of Kazakhstan President

In his speech at the 12th ASEM Summit in Brussels, President Nursultan Nazarbayev drew the participants' attention to the increasing number of conflicts in different parts of the world, the heightening of tension in international politics due to the growth of sanctions and trade wars. The President of Kazakhstan expressed regret that the international community lacks dialogue and mutual understanding, since a pragmatic dialogue between the superpowers is a guarantee of global stability and security.

In this regard, he stressed that if these problems are not solved, it is impossible to build the future together and promote inclusive sustainable development. That is why he called on such large countries such as the US, Russia, China and the EU to realize their responsibility to humanity and find a way to resolve international confrontations.

Otherwise, clashes and confrontations in Syria, Ukraine and other countries will further intensify; complex problems, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational terrorism, will not be solved; the world economy will deteriorate.

The head of state has reminded us that since World War II, during wars and the fight against terrorism, national leaders were able to find an understanding, something what is required at the present time.

In this regard, the President of Kazakhstan proposed the initiative to organize a special session of the UN or a meeting with the leaders of the United States, Russia, China and the European Union to discuss the pressing issues of international security.

Kazakhstan-EU cooperation on Afghanistan

The situation in Afghanistan has special implications for the long-term stability and security of Central Asia. We all understand that, leaving the issues of Afghanistan unaddressed and without Afghanistan's integration into Central Asian regional processes, achieving long-term regional stability will be impossible.

Kazakhstan is committed to Afghanistan's economically sustainable and secure development. Along with financial, technical and humanitarian assistance, Kazakhstan continues to implement various programmes aimed at rehabilitating Afghanistan. One such project has to do with human capital development; starting in 2009 our country has been implementing a $50 million education programme for Afghan youth. This has been an effective and in-demand instrument that will help put Afghan society on the right track towards sustainable development.

Last year, Kazakhstan had announced an initiative to continue this programme with European Union participation. At present, we have reached an agreement with the EU to implement an education program for Afghan women in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan's universities. The tentative budget for the project's first phase, as announced by Federica Mogherini, is 2 million euro. We hope that after its approval by the European Commission this spring we can start the program later this year.

Kazakhstan's UN Security Council Membership

In 2018, our country successfully completed its two-year position on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. Kazakhstan is the first Central Asian country to hold a seat on the UN Security Council, in the process demonstrating its diplomatic prowess and further solidifying its status as a respected and responsible member of the international community.

Kazakhstan has played an instrumental role in highlighting for the global community the increasing role of Central Asia for international relations.

During our month-long Presidency of the UN Security Council in January 2018, Kazakhstan organized a high-level thematic debate on the topic of “Weapons of Mass Destruction and Confidence Building Measures", chaired by President Nazarbayev and a ministerial debate on “Building a Regional Partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia to Link Security and Development".

As chair of the Afghanistan/Taliban, ISIL/DAISH and the “al-Qaida" Committee, Somalia/Eritrea, we have made our contribution to their fruitful work.

Astana Process

Kazakhstan remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis. This is why we originally offered Astana as a platform for the talks under the Astana Process, which led to the Syrian government directly sitting down with the armed opposition groups for the first time. A total of 65 armed opposition groups, out of around 100 present in Syria, have participated in the talks.

Kazakhstan's long-established impartiality and objectivity has meant that the country can act as an honest broker and a mediator in international relations.

The Astana Process has become an important supplement to the Geneva talks. As of today, eleven rounds of negotiations have been held in Astana. One of the main tangible results of the process has been the creation and effective functioning of de-escalation zones. Despite the on-going violence, 2017 saw the lowest number of civilian casualties in Syria since the start of the conflict.

The de-escalation of violence has also allowed international forces to significantly weaken ISIS in Syria.

**EU-Central Asia**

Inter-state relations in Central Asia are seeing a new dawn. Increased political and business contacts, as well as high-level governmental meetings in the bilateral and multilateral formats confirm the existence of enhanced relations.

For the first time in many years, Astana had hosted the first consultative meeting of Central Asian leaders (15 March 2018), which gave a new impetus to regional cooperation.

In this light, Kazakhstan has been a steadfast supporter of continued expansion of interregional dialogue with the EU, recognizing not only its potential for bringing Central Asia and the EU closer together, but also its capacity for making a contribution to increased integration between the countries of our region.

The positive dynamics in our region have opened up very interesting prospects for cooperation between our regions. For this reason, the process of updating the EU Strategy for Central Asia has become especially relevant. Kazakhstan, along with other Central Asian states, has submitted its concrete proposals for the new Strategy to the EU

We are convinced that the new Strategy must become a qualitative new driver for cooperation, reflecting the reality of relations and charting new courses for strategic partnership.

In all, we continue to call upon the European Union to be more ambitious and to expand its presence in Central Asia – this is an important component of our regional efforts to maintain a balance between the leading foreign trade and investment partners.

We are very pleased with the results of the 14th European Union-Central Asia Ministerial conference, which was held last November. The Ministerial conference made it possible to clearly indicate the common desire to develop cooperation between the EU and Central Asia.

Major events in Central Asia in 2018

Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has always pursued the strategic course set by President Nazarbayev to strengthen our time-tested multi-vector foreign policy. It has ensured peaceful and beneficial conditions for the sustainable development of our country.

In recent years, there have been further important positive developments in our region. Last year, Astana hosted the first Working (Consultative) Meeting of the Heads of Central Asian States, attended by the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan was represented by its Mejlis Speaker, Akja Nurberdiyeva.

The event demonstrated a significantly increased level of political dialogue among Central Asian countries, and a similarity and convergence of their positions on most intraregional and international agenda issues. The states signalled their desire to build close neighbourly relations on a foundation of mutual respect and trust, as well as to pursue concerted joint efforts to address pressing regional issues.

One of the main multilateral events that took place last summer was the 5th Summit of the Caspian Littoral States in Aktau, Kazakhstan, that completed with the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. This document will give a new impetus to the Caspian states' cooperation and will become a guarantor of regional security, stability, and prosperity.

The regional platform of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), which was established on the initiative of President Nazarbayev, has for many years been the only political and economic platform uniting the countries of Central Asia.

Last August, the President of Kazakhstan travelled to Turkmenistan to attend the Summit of the Heads of Founding States of the IFAS, where he met with regional counterparts to discuss the need to consolidate efforts in order to address environmental challenges stemming from the Aral Sea basin.

**EU-EAEU**

Kazakhstan, as one of the founding states of the EAEU, always stands for interaction between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union.

At the 12th Summit of the Asia-Europe Forum (ASEM) on October 19, during the meeting with the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker, President Nazarbayev invited the Head of the European Commission to take part in one of the meetings of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council.

The EU is the largest trading partner of the EAEU. In the period of January-July 2018, the EU accounted for 47.67% of the total turnover of the EAEU. The volume of mutual trade in the first half of 2018 amounted to 202.2 billion US dollars (141.8 billion - exports, 60.4 billion - imports), an increase of 24% over the same period in 2017.

Despite traditional historical ties and an impressive volume of trade, there is no official full-format dialogue between the EAEU and the EU, and its development is viewed by Brussels through the prism of a wider political context.

Around 40 countries of the world officially expressed their desire to develop trade and economic cooperation with the EAEU.

In our opinion, the time has come to establish interaction between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the European Union. A trusting dialogue would help dispel the suspicions of some European states regarding the activities of the EAEU and outline ways for further interaction.

Our desire is dictated by the wish to build a genuine bridge connecting the vast markets of our countries, the need to remove barriers to economic growth and the prosperity of our states.

I am convinced that the interaction between our associations would be mutually beneficial and will allow us to respond to the challenges of the global economic crisis.

Sanction policy

As an open market economy, Kazakhstan feels the influence of sanctions policy. Under the risk of sanctions are our enterprises operating in key sectors of the economy of Kazakhstan and having close economic ties with Russia.

Kazakhstan expresses the hope that parties involved will continue to search for “common points of contact", given that the confrontation between the world powers leaves its mark in the political and economic spheres of Kazakhstan.

Unfortunately, sanctions are increasingly becoming an instrument for resolving political and economic disputes, which leads to an increase in political risks and business uncertainty. Kazakhstan is becoming increasingly aware of their negative impact. At all levels, we are talking about the destructive nature of unilateral sanctions, which are becoming a serious obstacle to restoring confidence and dialogue.

**Belt and Road Initiative**

Kazakhstan along with China, is actively working on interlinking of the Nurly Zhol New Economic Program with China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which was first announced in Astana by the President of the China in 2013. Kazakhstan, being the first country located on the BRI route, is a key link between Europe and China and the key part of the Eurasian Continental Bridge

We intend to benefit from our transport logistics advantages to support transit from Asia to Europe.

For example, since the implementation of this program, fruitful results have been achieved today in the transport and logistics sector. Since 2011, there has been an annual dual increase in the volume of transit container trains through Kazakhstan in the China-Europe link. As a result of the joint measures taken, since 2015, container traffic in the China-Europe-China direction through Kazakhstan has doubled each year (in 2015 – 47,400 TEUs, in 2016 – 104,600 TEUs, in 2017 – 201,000 TEUs).

Among the measures taken during last year, for example, we can mention the launch of new container trains along the routes “Urumchi (China) - Kazakhstan - Russia - Latvia - Rotterdam (Netherlands)", “Changsha (China) - Kazakhstan - Turkmenistan - Tehran (Iran)", “Lodz (Poland) - Russia - Kazakhstan - Chengdu (China)". In addition, together with partners from China, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and other interested countries, serious work has been done to open and promote the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route.

In the first half of 2018, the volume of traffic between Kazakhstan and China amounted to more than 4 million tonnes of cargo, which is 33% more than in the same period in 2017. For the same period, the passage of about 1,000 container trains along the “China-EU-China" route was organized through the border crossings “Dostyk-Alashankou" and “Altynkol-Khorgos". In 2017, their number exceeded 3,000 trains.

Investments in the accelerated development of the transit logistics infrastructure of Kazakhstan ensured the passage of large volumes and created conditions for further increase in freight traffic along the routes “China - Kazakhstan - Russia - Western Europe", “China - Kazakhstan - South Caucasus / Turkey – Europe" and “China - Kazakhstan - Iran - Persian Gulf – Europe." At the moment, Kazakhstan's transport and logistics infrastructure is ready to ensure the passage of 2 million containers by 2020.

Joint infrastructure projects, such as the Kazakh-Chinese terminal in the seaport of Lianyungang and the dry port in the Khorgos SEZ on the border between the two countries, are regional hubs and provide a steady increase in transit traffic from China to Europe through Kazakhstan on all types of transport.

EU Strategy on connecting Europe and Asia

Kazakhstan has welcomed the adoption of the EU Strategy on connecting Europe and Asia, which is aimed at providing effective, sustainable and equal conditions for connecting the Eurasian continent.

The main directions of the Strategy are very relevant today (these are the development of transport, energy and digital networks on the Eurasian continent, strengthening interconnection between people; building partnerships with Asian countries, including within the framework of international organizations; promoting sustainable financing for Asian infrastructure projects).

Kazakhstan has great interest in the Strategy and is ready to join in its practical implementation in the interests of all parties involved.

We believe the effective implementation of the EU connectivity strategy will contribute to the further rapprochement between Central Asia and the European Union, in terms of establishing mutually beneficial trade and economic relations, creating the appropriate infrastructure for the dawn of Central Asia as an interregional transit and transport hub.

I am convinced that the progressive rapprochement of common efforts and their synergy can help again make Central Asia an important link in global economic relations, a role it has historically played for millennia. In these matters, we are driven solely by the desire to create the best conditions for the sustainable development of our region.

These advances demonstrate how Kazakhstan is at the centre of this vital and rapidly growing hub at the heart of Eurasia.

Created at : 1.02.2019, 18:20, Updated at : 1.02.2019, 18:20