Why Does Kazakhstan Matter to the EU?

Kazakhstan is a fast-growing economic actor not only in Central Asia, but also on the world stage. As the globe’s top powers become significantly interested in the success of the Middle Corridor trade route – starting from Southeast Asia and China, running through Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and further to European countries – Astana’s role in the international arena is expected to become even more important. 

This year Kazakhstan, a country of around 20 million people, will host the Astana International Forum – a significant global event held in the Kazakh capital yearly since 2008. Unfolding on June 13-14, the Forum will serve as a platform for various economic and political discussions, enabling domestic policymakers and business leaders to connect with interested foreign parties and forge a better future not only for Kazakhstan, but also for the region, and the world in general. 

Indeed, the growing number of global actors seem to be keenly interested in Kazakhstan’s economy, seeking to find the right corporate partners that can help realize their ambitions in the region. It is, therefore, not surprising that investors in the European Union are looking to identify the country’s most promising sectors, including critical minerals, energy, and transportation, given that the energy-rich nation produces 19 essential raw materials (beryllium, tantalum, titanium, ammonium metavanadate, copper, and phosphorus among them) included in the list of critical raw materials for the European Union.

The EU is one of Kazakhstan’s most significant trade partners, and the bloc is clearly committed to developing a closer relationship with Astana. For the European Union, Kazakhstan, as the largest country in Central Asia, represents a gateway to broader Asia, while Astana actively seeks to strengthen its economic cooperation with the EU. According to Kazakhstan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Roman Vasilenko, Astana’s relations with the EU are one of the most important priorities of Kazakhstan’s balanced foreign policy. 

That, however, does not mean that the Central Asian nation will neglect cooperation with other global actors. Together with partners from the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan plans to create a “supercomputer” that will consolidate the former Soviet republic’s place as Central Asia’s artificial intelligence (AI) leader. At the same time, Astana eyes to get the access to South Asian markets. It has already started developing strong business ties with Afghanistan, as well as energy cooperation with Qatar, given that Kazakh authorities hope that the Middle Eastern nation’s companies and financial institutions can benefit significantly in the realization of the Middle Corridor – a project that seems to be equally important for both, the EU and Kazakhstan. 

Besides that, Kazakhstan seeks to attract foreign investment. The energy-rich country recently offered its Caspian Sea ports of Aktau and Kuryk, as well as 22 airports, to European investors for management to build a strong transit hub between Asia and Europe. That is why, from the EU perspective, the role of Kazakhstan as a regional investment opportunity became increasingly attractive.

On January 29 in Brussels, at the Global Gateway Investors Forum for the EU – Central Asia Transport Connectivity, Kazakhstan and the European Union signed four memorandums worth over 800 million euros (US$865.7 million). One of the goals of these deals is to further develop the Middle Corridor, also known as the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), given that it represents an alternative to the existing East-West routes. 

But the fact that the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) signaled that it might inject direct investments of over $3.5 billion in Kazakhstan during 2024, clearly indicates that Astana, as a member and the founder of both the EDB and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), plans to preserve good economic ties with its partners in the region. Politically, Kazakhstan is expected to continue implementing its decades-old “multi-vector foreign policy”, aiming to benefit from cooperation with all major regional and global players. Economically, given that about 85% of goods from China to Europe are transported through Kazakhstan, Astana will almost certainly seek to additionally strengthen its role as an important transit country. 

In that context, the new Kazakh government, formed on February 6, has already set some very ambitious goals. In January this year, Kazakhstan’s economic growth was 3.9%, and the government’s priority task for 2024 is to ensure growth of no less than 6%. More importantly, Astana aims to double its economy to $450 billon by 2029, hoping that the non-oil sectors will drive the growth. 

If the Central Asian nation manages to achieve at least some of these goals, it will undoubtedly be one of the major beneficiaries of the ongoing transformation of the existing global order.

[Photo by TUBS, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Empowering Women: Fostering Collective Action in Nepalese Cooperatives

Collective action has been a fundamental aspect of human society for centuries. However, it has emerged as a prevalent mode of achieving common goals,...

A Real and Charming China in the Eyes of Taiwan Youths

As the yearning for more cross-Straits communications between the Chinese mainland and China's Taiwan region has been increasing in recent years, CGTN proudly presents...

Why Macron Is Thinking About Western Intervention in Ukraine

Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, initially took a more pragmatic approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Attempting to mitigate tensions, Macron’s numerous...