Interview with the First Deputy Minister
of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Rapil Zhoshybayev
Although for many the thought of the year 2017 is far away in the distance, for Kazakhstan the hosting of Expo 2017 heralds its first major global event that will be held on its territory as a showcase for more than just politicians or businesses. The Expo marks a turning point in Kazakhstan’s nascent history as a state and with the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rapil Zhoshybayev, visiting London to promote the event, OCA caught up with him on progress.
OCA: How are preparations for Expo 2017 going?
R.Z.: So far so good. Presentations have been held in Austria, Germany and London. I just came back from Spain where about 60 leading companies showed the interest and we made presentations for them. There is a large interest in our country. We are gradually getting everything in place to host this exhibition.
OCA: How do you assess the level of interest in this event?
R.Z.: The response is very positive. At the moment we have more extensive work to do; we are engaging business partners and tourism organisations. We are presenting our country to the world. In particular, our scientific and technological centre “Parasat”, is looking for their partners and planning to hold a major international conference on the subject of “Energy for the future and the usage of alternative energy sources” in 2016. The scientists who work in this direction will be able to find their partners. They also will go to Cambridge, to Silicon Valley in California, to Singapore, and other places where scientists are working on the real energy of the future. Under the banner of energy of the future, I mean alternative sources of energy – a source of water, earth, wind, all those sources that can replace our traditional ones.
OCA: You are heavily involved in the promotion of Expo 2017. Many have criticised these exhibitions as being too expensive for the return they provide. How and why do you think Kazakhstan’s hosting of the event will be different and really provide a lasting legacy for the country?
R.Z.: If you look at the development of our country since independence, you will see how progressive it was in terms of international initiatives. At the presentation in London, it was shown how much the republic is ready to host such kind of events, including major sporting events, the OSCE Summit, Astana Economic Forum, the Asian Games; we even competed for holding the Olympic Games. It shows the growth of the Republic.
We expect 85% of visitors from Kazakhstan, the remaining 15% will be not only from neighboring countries but we expect strong interest from the Chinese People’s Republic, the Russian Federation, Central Asian countries, and of course the countries where we are connected by air travel. Recently the president announced his open sky policy. We keep not just national carriers, but all the airlines companies that have interest. For example: Austria, United Kingdom, and we already have opened a direct flight to Paris. I have been to Madrid lately and they are interested as well. It gives us a great economic impact. Today we have a visa-free regime for many countries. This is a big plus for the development of tourism and the investment climate. The same applies to the United Kingdom. Thanks to this initiative, London is the number one city attracting tourists. At the moment, a lot of students want to participate in the exhibition. Elderly people from the country-side write letters, that they want to participate as well. And this is very good. There are certainly skeptics, but every event has them. I think with such interest and a positive attitude to the event, it will be successful.
OCA: Kazakhstan is emerging as a leader among Central Asia in terms of foreign policy. How would you describe the strategy and aims of Kazakhstan in bringing the region more onto the world stage without making your neighbours feel left out?
R.Z.: Our neighbours understand that this kind of exhibition is being held in a post-Soviet country for the first time. When I visited these countries, they showed a great interest, and congratulated Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, all these countries expressed a desire to participate in our exhibition. Many countries take pavilions of 1000 sq.m. This is the maximum that we provide. As a neighbour we provide support to them. As for international initiatives, we approved the creation of official development assistance; through it we use the financial resources of the European Union, the United Nations and use it for help in tragic situations, or in the field of education and culture. We created this organisation under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it is also helping our neighbours: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan etc. This is another step towards rapprochement.
OCA: How do you see the development of bilateral relations between the UK and Kazakhstan growing over the coming years and what are the key objectives of these?
R.Z.: The current relationship with Britain is very positive. This is indicated by the mutual visits of the heads of our countries. The state visit of the British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron to Kazakhstan in 2013 became a landmark event that activated economic relations between the two countries. During the visit of Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Mr. Karim Massimov to London this February, key bilateral economic institutions – the British Chamber of Commerce in Astana and the Business Council between “Samruk-Kazyna” NWF and the UK Agency for Trade and Investment started their work. We are looking forward to the official visit of President of Kazakhstan Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev to London this November. This will become President Nazarbayev’s first official visit to a Western country after his re-election and as head of a member state for the World Trade Organisation.
Kazakhstan has always tried to fulfill all the points in the legal economic sector. There was never a big problem. Expo-2017 is a step forward for the development of economic relations between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom. There is a decision of the Head of State to turn the whole exhibition territory after Expo into an international financial centre, using the example of Dubai’s financial centre. There are English rules and laws. They register 100% of foreign companies, banks, financial institutions. With the implementation of the Dubai centre the economic development rose by 12%. We also want our country to be developed. Here there are certainly great opportunities for Britain’s companies. This special area, with its own law and visa regime, will allow business to be conducted more quickly and efficiently. Kazakhs are a people striving for the best, so I think we can afford it.