Kazakhstan, landlocked country in Central Asia with plentiful oil and gas reserves, is shifting its focus to renewable energy. The world exhibition EXPO 2017, which was held from in the capital Astana from June to September and attracted 115 countries under the theme of Energy, provided a strong momentum to sustainable energy. Sustainable energy is one of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.
Mukhtar B. Tileuberdi, Kazakhstan’s first deputy foreign minister, made a strong pitch for renewable energy during a visit to New York, also noting that that EXPO 2017 provided a platform for countries to share knowledge and technology to address one of the planet’s most pressing challenges. This is driving Kazakhstan’s infrastructure expansion, and its ambition of becoming Central Asia’s logistics hub.
“Hosting EXPO 2017, which symbolizes international cooperation and technological advances, for the first time in Central Asia, has been a milestone not just for our country but the entire region. The fair’s emphasis on Future Energy also lends support to the UN’s aspirations to attain the SDGs,” Tileuberdi told Asia Cargo News during a recent interview at the Kazakhstan mission to the UN in New York.
Tileuberdi, a former Kazakhstan ambassador who was posted to Malaysia from 2004 to 2009 and knows Asia well, argued that renewable energy is at the heart of the solution to the challenge of promoting growth, creating jobs and improving living standards while protecting the planet for future generations.
According to Tileuberdi, the EXPO exhibition will help Kazakhstan’s transition to a “modern and sustainable economy” and enhance its trade and shipping, besides providing a strong momentum to transiting to green economies around the world.
“We all share this planet and it is vital that global economic growth does not take place at the expense of our environment and future generations. We believe strongly in Kazakhstan that we must all prosper together. Our intention is to support least developed countries (LDCs), least developed landlocked countries (LDLCs), and small island developing states (SIDS),” he said.
After the end of EXPO, the national pavilions set up at the exhibition are being converted into scientific laboratories for the development and adoption of new technologies. A new International Center for Green Technology and Investments will be set up at the Astana International Finance Center. “This is a very important initiative which will attract capital to develop Kazakhstan as well as all of Central Asia,” Tileuberdi said.
The city of Astana has also acquired enhanced urban infrastructure, including a new high-tech airport terminal, the region’s largest railway station and an upgraded public transportation system, all of which will help increase trade and shipping. Kazakhstan has also set up special economic zones to attract foreign companies and establish a logistics hub for Central Asia.
Kazakhstan is projected to become one of the world’s top five energy exporting nations by 2020. Neighboring countries, including Turkey, could meet their huge appetite for energy and grain and meat demand from Kazakhstan. Indeed, countries such as Turkey stand to benefit from Kazakhstan’s western-Europe-to-western-China transportation corridor, sometimes called “the Silk Road of the new millennium.”
Kazakhstan and Turkey agreed on an action plan to carry out their ambitious four-year New Synergies economic programme from 2012 to 2015; this has spurred bilateral Kazakh-Turkish trade, which jumped 200% from US$1.9 billion in 2010 to US$4 billion by the end of 2012. By the end of 2012, Kazakhstan’s investments in Turkey had reached US$978 million and Turkish investment in Kazakhstan had reached nearly US$859.8 million. Both sides say that bilateral trade will increase to US$10 billion in the coming years.
Many experts are even predicting that Central Asia could become a more attractive source of energy supply than the oil-supplying Gulf countries. “For Turkey, for example, Central Asia would be safer and more stable in terms of its political systems and also the lack of internal threats to the states in the region,” one German expert, preferring to remain anonymous, explained.
Kazakhstan’s dry ports are of strategic significance for Central Asia. Besides Khorgos in the east, Kazakhstan’s lesser known port Aktau, located in the west, aspires to become a trans-Eurasian transport and trade hub.
Aktau is today a bustling centre of the oil industry. As a core component of a national shift to build a logistics industry to diversify the economy away from being solely reliant on resource exports, Aktau is attempting to develop itself into a great crossroads of Eurasia, directly linking it with China to the east, Russia to the north, Iran to the south and Azerbaijan, Turkey and Europe across the Caspian Sea to the west.
The rail connection from Khorgos to Aktau port will enable cargo to be transported along the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus to Europe as well as to the south by Iran to the Gulf. With the new railway line connecting Georgia and Turkey, cargo can now be shipped via Aktau over the Caspian Sea and then by rail through Azerbaijan and Georgia for delivery in Turkey and beyond, according to experts at DHL which is considered a pioneering forwarder on this transport route.
Kazakhstan’s growing importance as a logistics hub is, meanwhile, attracting key logistics players from around the world. Besides the presence of Turkish construction and logistics companies, major Asian countries, including Japan, China, South Korea and India, are also eyeing Kazakhstan as an important link to the lucrative Central Asian markets.
Nippon Express, for example, has signed an MoU with Kazakhstan’s railroad company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ) for developing container traffic from China, Japan and South Korea to Europe and, particularly, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Arman Sultanov, KTZ vice president (development), has said that the railway company would provide transhipment, processing and handling at the Khorgos-Eastern Gates port, which will reduce the cargo transit time between Asia and Europe.
Sometime back, KTZ had signed an investment agreement with COSCO Shipping and China’s Lianyungang port for the joint development of the Khorgos-Eastern Gate Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Lianyungang is China’s largest ocean port, with a handling capacity of more than 200 million tonnes and 5 million containers per year.
Chinese investors have acquired stakes in Kazakhstan’s inland port to create a large regional hub for the consolidation and distribution of cargo flows between Asia and Europe.
Additionally, Dubai-based DP World has signed an MoU with the Kazakhstan government to develop a Port Community System (PCS), a one-stop electronic platform developed by DP World subsidiary Dubai Trade that enables the exchange of multimodal data. The joint venture from the KTZ and DP World collaboration would implement and manage the PCS system which will automate the multimodal logistics processes into a single Eurasian Transcontinental Corridor.
By Manik Mehta
International Correspondent | New York