By Vincent Wee
Kazakhstan does its part to help the region deal with developments that bring both challenges and opportunities.
From left: Zhang Yansheng, secretary-general, academic council of China's National Development and Reform Commission; Nematullo Hikmatullozoda, Tajikistan Minister of Economic Development and Trade; Uldis Augulis, Latvia Minister of Transport; and Koh Poh Koon, Singapore Minister of State for Trade and Industry at the AEF. Dr Koh notes how greater integration can be facilitated between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the South-east Asian grouping, through the Silk Road which connects both communities.
THE Central Asian region is at the centre of developments that are bringing both tremendous challenges as well as great opportunities and as one of the top countries in the region, Kazakhstan is doing its part to help deal with these issues.
At the Astana Economic Forum (AEF) on May 25-26, which Kazakhstan hosts at its capital Astana every year, world renowned experts, politicians, heads of major financial institutions, international organisations, Nobel Prize winners and scientists gathered to discuss the main topic of AEF-2016, "New economic reality: diversification, innovation and knowledge economy".
The first day saw 19 sessions, master classes, workshops and meetings being held. Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov opened the Great Silk Road forum: Energy, Resources and Sustainable Development.
In his speech, Mr Massimov noted that for centuries the Silk Road stimulated the exchange of best practices, promoted peace and dialogue of Greater Eurasia.
"Developing Asia in recent decades has shown the need for closer cooperation within the Asian region, as well as between Asia, Europe and America," he said, adding that the Great Silk Road or the "One Belt, One Road" programme is "our common history, while development and prosperity are our common aspiration".
The Great Silk Road forum addressed such issues as the most beneficial partnerships in the field of transport, logistics and energy. Also speaking at the forum, Singapore Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said: "One Belt, One Road brings together three continents, more than 60 countries.
"Interconnection is a backbone component of this programme, and Singapore is ready to offer a unique relationship in the field of aviation and transport and thus cause interest of foreign representatives."
Dr Koh also emphasised the importance of the One Belt, One Road initiative and what it has to offer the growing Asean region and vice-versa while also highlighting Kazakhstan's key role within it. He noted how greater integration can be facilitated between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the South-east Asian grouping, through the Silk Road which connects both communities.
Dr Koh suggested that Silk Road countries should eliminate trade barriers and find their respective development strategy. Meanwhile, on the One Belt, One Road, he said that China was an important guarantee whether the initiative will succeed, while Kazakhstan is the "button" of the Silk Road Economic Belt. As the largest landlocked country, Kazakhstan is the key player that connects China, Russia and Europe.
He added that with Asean making significant progress towards regional integration with the establishment of the Asean Economic Community, those wanting to do business with the region, including from the EAEU, will find it easier to navigate the diverse area.
In addition, on the sidelines of the AEF, Dr Koh also announced Singapore's official participation at Expo 2017 in Astana.
Meanwhile, the plenary session "Promoting Competition: New Rules of the Game" focused on successes and achievements of a 25-year-old antitrust regulation, the results of the Review of Competition Law and Policy of Kazakhstan, as well as the OECD recommendations for further improvement of the country's competition policy. During the second session of the plenary session "Promoting Competition: New Rules of the Game", speakers from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and other countries discussed the increasing role of a competition policy in the integration processes of micro, macro and global levels.
Participants also highlighted new approaches to determining a market power, which in the last decade has been determined not by the size of the market share as in the second half of the 20th century, but strategies of market behaviour of individual actors.
Turning to development issues, the session "UNDP 50th Anniversary: Exploring New Possibilities to Speed Up Sustainable Development" saw Kazakhstan State Secretary Gulshara Abdykalikova highlighting the progress of Kazakhstan in the world arena.
"Kazakhstan has ranked the 42nd place among 140 countries of the world on global competitiveness index," he said. On the way to achieve this position, the country managed to rapidly reduce poverty, achieve universal primary education, and achieve some progress in promoting gender equality. The session also focused on challenging issues of the local economy.
This session was especially poignant with the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 50th anniversary this year and its contribution to sustainable development in Kazakhstan. Problems and prospects of linking the Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasian Economic Integration were important topics as forum participants sought to introduce a new model into certain national economies, including Kazakhstan's.
Among the other top issues at this annual economic and political event were the effects of the global financial crisis on the sensitive economies of Central Asia and the Caucasus.
With some of these countries suffering from the imbalances of their monetary and banking systems, as well as in the reduced trade and tougher conditions for obtaining funds in the global financial market, several sessions at AEF-2016 were devoted to the prospects for development of the financial and banking sector, monetary policy and possible return to the capital control regime.
At the session, "Complex uncertainty and volatility in the global economy: The growing risks of instability", participants discussed the issues of modern financial and investment policy by referring to the examples of several countries, and paying particular attention to the current risks, such as unsustainable global capital allocation, investment slowing and outflow of capital from rapidly developing markets. Other key components were the interaction between markets and reforms in the global economy.
Another session by the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) in cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Club of Scientists Association on "International experience of financial growth: Mechanisms and tools for development of the Astana International Financial Center" discussed the potential of the AIFC and its attractiveness for domestic and foreign investments, its development prospects, as well as the opportunities for adoption of the successful international practice of creation and development of world financial centres.
Other key topics were "New financial technologies", covering the interaction between banks and financial and technical startups, management tools and government support, financial technologies and opportunities and expected threats of the Blockchain technologies. There were also specific sessions on sustainable development and environmental challenges with particular attention paid to the green economy as a tool for introduction of social innovation, economic diversification and environmental sustainability and the implementation of green growth as a national vision of Kazakhstan's policy.
Among the luminaries at this year's event were Nobel Prize winners in various fields, including winners in economics such as Edward Prescott, Christopher Pissarides and Thomas Sargent. Messrs Prescott, Pissarides and Sargent gave lectures as part of the AEF's special programme "Spring Astana Economic School".
At the session on "Kazakhstan's growth strategy", 2010 Nobel Prize winner in Economics Mr Pissarides spoke as an expert in the field of modern economic growth trends and economic development models.
Other prominent participants at the forum were Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) president Suma Chakrabarti and Columbia University economics professor and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs.
Another key forum, held with the direct involvement and partnership of the Boao Forum for Asia, an international forum that brings together government representatives, businesses and academia of Asia and other continents to discuss the economic dynamics of Asia and the world, was on identifying new opportunities for investing in key sectors of Central Asia's economy, including Kazakhstan.
Among the issues on the agenda were linking two major geopolitical developments in Eurasia - China's Silk Road Economic Belt, also known as One Belt, One Road, and the Eurasian Economic Union. With good potential for forming a new economic reality for the region, these initiatives share common direction and contact points and their linkage is expected to allow a more concerted and efficient strategy of co-development of countries in the region.
The main events of AEF-2016 were organised in cooperation with 10 international partners, including the UN, OECD, IMF, World Bank, EBRD, Asian Development Bank and Secretariat of Boao Forum for Asia.