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08/29/07

US intends to back Central Asian states’ WTO membership


Eurasianet.org

Category: Economy
Posted by: admin

Text of article by Aleksandr Zhelenin entitled: Invitation to trade: USA intends to lobby for WTO membership of Central Asian states, published by the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on 13 August:

The states of Central Asia are getting the support of the United States in accession to the World Trade Organization [WTO]. The initiative was announced by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Evan Feigenbaum. Experts associate this with the disappearance of such a negative factor for the region as the Andijon syndrome.

"We have spoken out in favour of granting membership in the WTO to all five countries of the region," announced Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Evan Feigenbaum.

For the present day, out of the five Central Asian states, only Kyrgyzstan is a member of the WTO, having joined that organization in 1998. To say that this gave the mountain republic any particular advantages would be an exaggeration. Over the past nine years, the country has remained the poorest state in the region, just as it was before. In the opinion of the head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department of the Institute of CIS Countries, Andrey Grozin, Feigenbaum’s words are an attempt to seize the initiative from Russia in Central Asia - "a desire to win over new capacities for influencing the domestic policy of the post-Soviet Asian republics." Then again, Grozin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the elite of the four Central Asian republics have varying attitudes towards the idea of joining the WTO. For example, the most economically developed state in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, has long declared accession to the WTO to be one of the main priorities of its foreign policy.

"For Turkmenistan, with its neutrality, or for Tajikistan with its numerous economic problems, membership in the WTO, on the contrary, is not a first-priority task," believes the expert. In these two countries, he believes, in speaking about the WTO, the Americans have in mind first and foremost the creation of opportunities for influencing the local elite. As for Uzbekistan, in Grozin’s opinion, the idea of membership in the WTO for this state on the part of the USA is a certain attempt to build bridges in hopes for the future. "The United States and their allies gained nothing from Tashkent’s international isolation," says the political analyst, "and therefore the new US initiative is oriented towards the future."

Moscow Carnegie Centre expert Aleksey Malashenko told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the statement by the State Department representative corresponds to the position of the USA, which may be characterized in the following words: "The world of Central Asia must be accepted such that it is." This position, in his opinion, has prevailed for the past year-and-a-half in regard to the countries of the region, ever more greatly intensifying. This includes also in regard to the Uzbek regime. Attempts to exert pressure on Uzbekistan after the bloody events in Andijon in May of 2005 led nowhere. "The shock of Andijon has already passed long ago, and there is nothing surprising about the new initiative of the United States," believes Malashenko. It is another matter, he continues, that the accession of Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan to the WTO on general principles would hardly evoke any particular enthusiasm in these countries, because this would lead to "weakening of the economic and political leadership there."

However, in reality, as Malashenko believes, the Central Asian leaders will think long and hard before making the decision to join or not to join the WTO, "if this is not financially supported by the West and if some measures are not adopted to ease the process of accession to the World Trade Organization." It is unlikely that anyone would want to voluntarily repeat the sad experience of the neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.