​Remarks by Mr. Roman Vassilenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan at High Level Conference on Central Asia “Connectivity for Sustainable Development”

(15 April 2019, Bucharest)

Your Excellency, Minister Melescanu,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Buna dimineața!

I would like to express my gratitude to Romania for its excellent organization of the conference in the beautiful Palace of the Parliament.

Kazakhstan joins other delegations in warmly welcoming Romania's continued work, initiated by its EU presidency, on reinvigorating discussions focused on connectivity across the Eurasian space.

I am confident that the points highlighted today will be conducive to the joint efforts to address challenges arising from advancing the issues of connectivity and regional cooperation in the name of peace and prosperity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Kazakhstan attaches great importance to the development of a constructive and trustful dialogue in the European Union-Central Asia format. Today, the European Union is our reliable partner, contributing to the sustainable development and prosperity of Central Asian countries.

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 cooperation between the countries of our region.

Nowadays 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 enhanced level of relations. In fact, our new President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, is on a state visit to our brotherly Uzbekistan as we speak today.

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 our regional neighbours, has actively participated in the preparation of that document by presenting ideas and proposals.

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

We expect that connectivity in its broadest sense will become one of the key elements of the new EU Strategy for Central Asia, which should be adopted in the very near future. We urge our European colleagues to actively involve Central Asian partners in developing appropriate programs for the development of our region, which are already being established within the framework of the new budget period of 2021-2027.

Dear colleagues,

Kazakhstan is located in the heart of Eurasia and is the largest land-locked state. These factors, together with the demanding realities of globalization, have meant that issues of transit and logistics have become vital to our diplomacy. This turns the attraction of foreign investments, integration of innovative technologies into our economy, and the promotion of Kazakh exports into some of the main priorities of our government.

The future of economic connectivity and cooperation between the EU and the Central Asia will primarily depend on our ability to create and maintain efficient intercontinental trade flows. The pace at which we meet this objective will be determined by the quality of infrastructure, ease of doing business, and transportation costs and logistics that set the framework for inter-state economic collaboration.

In this context, Kazakhstan has succeeded in creating an efficient and modern national transport infrastructure and in promoting greater economic integration. This strategic programme has allowed Kazakhstan to capitalize on its geostrategic location and succeed in linking its national development programs with those of neighbouring countries.

A good example is the connection between the $24 billion Kazakh national “Nurly Zhol" (Bright Path) infrastructure development program and the Belt and Road Initiative. This integration has created synergies between transportation and logistics systems and formed a new infrastructure network for transcontinental shipments.

Kazakhstan has been implementing the Nurly Zhol programme since 2015 to stimulate the growth of trade flows across the country by linking it with global infrastructure networks. Nurly Zhol provides for large-scale transportation and infrastructure projects, and has seen the completion of the Western China - Western Europe road transportation corridor.

Other noteworthy examples of economic connectivity and cooperation are the transport and logistics terminal that Kazakhstan and China jointly built at the port of Lianyungang on the Pacific coast in 2014 and the expansive Khorgos Dry Port on the border between Kazakhstan and China.

Our connectivity strategy involves using both inland and sea ports to achieve maximum results from our location and modern transportation infrastructure. We are equally focused on introducing digital solutions in this area, for managing processes and improving services based on block chain technologies.

We also strongly believe that our country and Central Asia generally should not be regarded as a simple transit corridor between Europe and Asia. On the contrary, our region seeks to use the expertise of global partners such as the EU to achieve effective modernization, develop our logistical potential, attain economic diversification and, as a result, improve Central Asia's integration into the global economic system.

Over the past decade, Kazakhstan has invested approximately $30 billion in its national transportation infrastructure. We have plans to invest an additional $8.4 billion by 2020. This will complement the already dynamic development of our trade routes in concert with China's Belt and Road Initiative, in which our country plays a vital role. It will also breathe new life into transcontinental shipping routes between Asia, Europe and among countries across the Eurasian space.

To put this into perspective, transporting goods by land has distinct advantages over other transport methods. Journeys by rail from China to Europe across Kazakhstan are three times faster than by sea, and almost 10 times cheaper than by air. Joint plans and projects worth more than $10 billion are currently being implemented across the wider region. These are focused on developing infrastructure towards the Caspian Sea and the ports of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, as well as the Georgian and Turkish ports on the Black Sea. They are expected to contribute to delivering the speed and technological interlinkages that are required to meet the growing demand for goods and produce.

As a result of all these multi-national efforts, transporting goods within the Eurasian area over distances of 10,000-12,000 km takes just two weeks by train on average, which serves as a stimulus for increased land-based shipments of goods between European and Asian markets.

The strategic goal of the realization of the transit potential of Kazakhstan is the development of container transportation by trains. Today, Kazakhstan's national railway company (Kazakhstan Temir Zholy) serves more than 15 transit routes between China and Europe.

In 2018, the total volume of container transit traffic passing through Kazakhstan amounted to 537,000 TEU containers, which is 55% more than in 2017 (346,000 TEUs), and there were 310,800 TEUs in the China-Europe-China direction, which is 54% more compared to 2017 (201,000 TEUs).

In the first quarter of 2019, the volume of container traffic in the China-Europe-China direction passing through Kazakhstan exceeded the level of the same period in 2018 by 45%.

In 2019, 715,000 TEUs in total is planned to transit in the China-Europe-China direction, which is triple the number of 2018.

Overall, the plan for 2019 is to attract up to 1 million TEU container traffic passing through Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan's railway company, together with its partners in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, is currently developing the transportation of container cargo from China and Kazakhstan to Turkey and further towards European countries along the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (also known as "Middle Corridor").

A key infrastructure project of the corridor's logistics chain is the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars route, which provides access to Turkey, and southern Europe with access to the Mediterranean Sea. The commissioning of the new line in 2017 enabled the expansion of the geography of transportation and contributed to the development of the Trans-Caspian transportation.

Even though the volume of container traffic in the Trans-Caspian direction is currently small, there is a substantial growth trajectory. The figure for 2018 is 13 times higher than in 2017.

In order to commercialize transportation along the Trans-Caspian route, a regular container feeder line along the Aktau-Baku-Aktau route is being launched in Aktau on April 16, 2019. This will give a new impetus to the development of containerization of transportation and enable the goods to be delivered on time consistently.

To develop the Trans-Caspian route and ensure access to the EU countries, we propose to organize such a service on the Batumi/Poti-Constanța route.

Dear colleagues,

Earlier in my remarks, I used the term “land-locked" when referring to Kazakhstan. This term sometimes carries negative connotations due to perceived developmental challenges from a lack of access to open waters and, in some cases, resources for investment. This, of course, is not always the case.

Kazakhstan leverages its geographic location as a positive asset. For this reason, Kazakhstan is increasingly seen internationally not as land-locked but rather as land-linked, acting as a connecting bridge between continents, countries and cultures.

Bearing in mind the EU's potential for facilitating greater compatibility between regional economic and transport networks, I would like to note that our country remains committed to the idea of Greater Eurasia, a concept coined by the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. It seeks to create mutually beneficial synergies between the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative. In a recent interview, President Tokayev gave his full support to the idea of the Greater Eurasia.

These initiatives correspond fully to Kazakhstan's drive to position Central Asia as the main strategic bridge between the largest markets in Europe and Asia, which have a combined population of 4.4 billion people. Our region played this role in the past, and can fulfil it anew with increased regional economic and political cooperation.

While there are numerous political and technical challenges that remain to be resolved – from dealing with the impact of reciprocal Western and Russian sanction policies, to improving railway infrastructure where wide gauge rails meet narrow gauge rails, or to expanding the use of the Black Sea and Baltic Sea ports – we strongly believe there is no alternative to further growth of transcontinental trade. Undoubtedly, this growth will benefit all countries of the EU and Central Asia, and that is why Kazakhstan has consistently worked and will continue working to solve these issues by developing the concept of connectivity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Kazakhstan welcomes the adoption of the new 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 for us.

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.

We are convinced that the progressive coordination of common efforts and synergy of the major projects in the region, namely, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative, can help to once again make Central Asia an important link in global economic relations. In these matters, we are driven solely by the desire to create the best conditions for the sustainable development of our region.

Dear colleagues,

At present there is high competition in the field of transport and logistics routes and this has a significant impact on our country. Other countries offer alternative transit routes passing through the territories of neighbouring states, and we welcome competition as a healthy sign. High competition encourages Kazakhstan to pursue a more proactive policy. We will continue to work to improve the legal framework, the conditions of carriage of passengers and goods through Kazakhstan and Central Asia, including tariffs, preferences and benefits.

In this regard, we hope that with our strategic partners we will continue solving existing problems and meeting challenges in a constructive manner in order to ensure the prosperity of our countries and peoples.

We therefore invite all relevant nations and their transport companies to join in mutually beneficial cooperation and partnership dialogue.

Let me once again wish the Romanian Presidency of the EU continued success in building and strengthening connectivity and cooperation between the EU and Central Asia.

Thank you for your attention, si mulțumesc mult.

Created at : 15.04.2019, 15:05, Updated at : 15.04.2019, 15:05