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The possible limelight of Central Asia

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, all former Soviet republics, are facing similar problems: insufficient access to basic services, economic diversification, weak labor market, low population participation in decision-making processes and public institutions that do not account for their work. In terms of economic development, political organization, the environment and the security situation, Central Asia is still a very heterogeneous region. This heterogeneity is easily found in Covid-19 management. In fact, compared to the response to the pandemic that is affecting all the countries of the world, the Central Asian Republics can be divided into two groups.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which promptly implemented health, social and economic measures in line with those of the most advanced countries. On the other hand, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan which, although with different forms, are opting for a completely different strategy: that of absolute negation. Officially, in fact, there are no cases of coronavirus, although there are many doubts, both because in Tajikistan there have been dozens of suspicious deaths, and because Turkmenistan shares a very long border with Iran, particularly affected by the pandemic.

However, one of the regions of the world that is economically less affected by the virus seems to be Central Asia. Economic activity is expected to contract in every sub-region in 2020 as outbreaks of the virus constrain private consumption and investment: Central Europe by 5%; Western Balkans by 3.2%; South Caucasus by 3.1%; Eastern Europe by 3.6%; and Central Asia by 1.7%.

Central Asian countries in economic terms may have a lot to say in the future. Before the impact of the Coronavirus, financial analysts have positively assessed the economic growth of Central Asian countries. In fact, it is experiencing greater growth than any other region in which the Silk Road is ready to invest. “I am very optimistic about the future of the region,” said the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The five countries of Central Asia would have the opportunity to return to play the important role of bridge between Europe and the Far East by focusing on an effective and efficient diversification of their economies.

Uzbekistan, a very important country from an economic point of view which had a growth between 5 and 6 percent, is at the center of attention for the reform system. The most visible changes in Uzbekistan concern its foreign policy. Previously, Uzbekistan had a self-isolation policy. This was due to the country’s poor reputation for human rights, its desire to mark the distance with Russia, and finally its reluctance to work cooperatively with its neighbors.

In economic terms, Kazakhstan is by far the economically most prosperous state of Central Asia, followed at a distance by Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and even further away from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Economic inequality, according to some observers, could have future political consequences.

Probably, the key to the success of Central Asia is the greater collaboration between its components. A collaboration that must be both economic and political, aimed at the growth and prosperity of the region, improving the climate for investors and attracting international companies.

By Domenico Greco

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