Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan
Sirodjidin Aslov with “The European Times” Magazine
Question 1: Your Excellency, since being appointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2013, what would you consider your biggest milestone?
As you may probably know, Tajikistan has had a chairmanship in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization this year. Accordingly, Dushanbe has hosted a lot of very important political events that the Government of Tajikistan and especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were responsible of. For instance, the meeting of the SCO Foreign Ministers Council as well as the SCO Summit has been held in Dushanbe on the highest level. This result could be considered as the great success of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the whole country.
The SCO chairmanship was held under the motto: "Cooperation, co-development, co-prosperity". In the framework of our chairmanship we have put every effort to make this motto finds its maximum reflection in the practical implementation of the issues facing today's agenda of the Organization. The results of those efforts were the agreements reached and documents adopted at the Summit as well as 50 major events of various areas of cooperation have been held during this year.
A chairmanship in any organization and holding of the summits - is a big responsibility for any state. The high appreciation of SCO Summit participants on the result of Tajikistan’s chairmanship in this organization is the subject of our pride. Tajikistan is actually once again proved itself as an independent and progressive state, which has all necessary facilities for holding important international political events at the highest level.
Question 2: Tajikistan and the EU’s relationship began in 2001 eventually leading to the establishment of the partnership and cooperation agreement in 2010 to promote bilateral trade and investment with the EU. How have you seen the relationship evolve since the establishment of this agreement?
Diplomatic relations between Tajikistan and the EU became more active with the opening of the permanent missions of both sides. It should be noticed that the Republic of Tajikistan gives great importance to cooperation with the European Union. Cooperation with the EU is the important priority in the foreign policy of the Republic of Tajikistan. EU-Tajikistan relations have been governed by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) which was signed in 2004 and came into force on 1 January 2010. The Agreement has had an objective to enhance bilateral relations and heighten the EU profile in Tajikistan as well as to provide a comprehensive and ambitious framework for joint EU-Tajikistan work in all key areas of reform. Under the PCA the meetings of Cooperation Council, Cooperation Committee and Parliamentary Cooperation Committee have been held on a regular basis.
Our bilateral economic relations have been developed in the framework of this Agreement. The issues of the macroeconomic development of the country, including the investment of public and private sector, as well as issues related to trade within the WTO are being discussed during the bilateral meetings.
As for trade turnover between Tajikistan and the EU, in 2013 the export of the goods to the European countries amounted to 39453,2 thousand US dollars and the import from the European countries reached 494543,1 thousand US dollars. Of course this number does not satisfy our needs and we have to strive towards increasing it.
Within the framework of mutual cooperation the official visits of the President of Tajikistan to Brussels were organized, where the Memoranda on cooperation with the European Investment Bank and in the field of health were signed.
It has to be mentioned that the EU has its special place in the foreign policy of Tajikistan. And the President of the country during his meetings with high ranking EU authorities on the EU-Tajikistan bilateral relations has underlined that “The Republic of Tajikistan considers the EU as an important international partner, and will make every effort to continue mutual beneficial cooperation”.
The European Union carries out its investment programs in the fields of energy, water resources and environmental protection. Other areas, such as education, the rule of law, regional security and the strengthening of borders have been covered by the cooperation between Tajikistan and the European Union.
It should be noted that with the strengthening of the legal framework of bilateral relations the cooperation of Tajikistan and the European Union on Afghanistan, which included the fight against terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking become wider. In this direction, Tajikistan supports the efforts of the European community to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Question 3. What European investments are currently in the country?
Nowadays, more than half of the EU countries are actively investing in the economy of our country. European investments are directed along with other important sectors of economy to the development of the banking sector, promotion of small and medium enterprises, and modernization of housing and communal services. For example, at the beginning of 2011, the EBRD had financed 55 projects in Tajikistan with a total amount of $ 278 million US dollars. There are also small-scale projects for the modernization of power transmission lines in Tajikistan that have been funded by the EBRD and the Swiss Government.
In the past years there have been signs of increase of the EU interests in the energy sector of Tajikistan. So, in late 2010, EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, while being in Dushanbe on an official visit, had announced that the EU is ready to allocate 60 million US dollars for the implementation of two fairly large (by the standards of the Tajik economy) energy projects. We are talking about reconstruction Kairakkum HPP and construction of several small hydropower plants on the river Surkhob.
Since 2007, the European Commission has focused its program of budgetary support in the field of social protection, on improving the targeting and rationalization of the allocation of aid; on the development of social services as well as the modernization of facilities for the elderly people and implementation of labor market policy.
It should be noted that the EU pays more attention to structural and institutional reforms of the market economy of Tajikistan. The Republic of Tajikistan is interested in active role of the EU in the priority areas of the national economy, including the construction of hydroelectric power plants, investment in tourism and agriculture.
Question 4. What opportunity is there for EU investments?
Tajikistan having possessed existing opportunities for the European investment continues to develop new action plans for the expansion of the cooperation as well as for the attraction of European investors to the economy of Tajikistan. The cooperation between Tajikistan and the European Union has been positively influenced by Tajikistan’s accession to the world economic system represented by WTO.
The European Union contributes to attracting investments in priority areas of the national economy of Tajikistan, including energy and agriculture, social development, environmental protection and national border security. Tajikistan will strive to develop long-term stable cooperation with this influential interstate association.
It is also important to have in mind that Tajikistan has a huge potential of hydropower resources to produce clean and cheap electricity, equal to the production of 527 billion KW/h of electricity per year. With the commissioning of new generating capacity in the next few years, Tajikistan may become a leading exporter of electricity in the region.
Question 5. What type of protections do investors have?
It is well known that Tajikistan’s economy is open for the international investments. In the past years some legal documents such as the laws of the Republic of Tajikistan "On Privatization of State Property of the Republic of Tajikistan", "On Concessions", "On the state private partnership", "On the licensing system" and other important documents were adopted to promote the international investment and to create the most favorable investment environment in the Republic of Tajikistan.
After the goal to establish a favorable investment climate in the country was proclaimed, the reforms to simplify the procedure of state registration of legal enterprises and individual entrepreneurs, the permit system, customs procedures, obtaining building permits, and etc. were carried out. Only in the last few years the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan has taken a number of significant measures to strengthen the legal framework for investment activity, to remove administrative barriers to facilitate business and investment activities, which have largely influenced the efficiency ratio.
Introducing the "single window" principle for business registration, reducing the required number of licenses and all sorts of permits, reducing the number of inspection services and regulation of audits, improving bankruptcy procedures, and protection of minority shareholders are among those reforms to improve the business environment, which were duly evaluated at the international level. In the 2010/ 2011 World Bank’s annual "Doing Business" report Tajikistan is inside "top ten" of the best reformers. The activity to improve the investment climate is supported by the Consultative Council on improvement of investment climate under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, which is composed of representatives of the Government and the private sector.
The legislation of the country establishes guarantees for the investors and investment activities; a single mode both for national and foreign investors has been created; freedom to transfer of profits and other forms of investment income are ensured, and so on. Tajikistan legislation stipulates concrete customs and tax preferences for investing. Special benefits are provided to those investors who operate in the priority sectors of the economy, such as construction of hydro power plants and enterprises involved in the full cycle of cotton processing.
At the international level, stimulating investment legal instruments ratified and recognized by the Republic of Tajikistan is “Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement” concluded with 25 countries and “Agreement on Encouragement and Mutual Protection of Investments” concluded with 18 countries worldwide. Significant factor in further improving the investment climate and increase of business activity in the country was joining of the Republic of Tajikistan to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards as of June 10, 1958.
Question 6. Ukraine is in a position to be a leading partner for import/export from pharmaceuticals to building materials. With the strained relationship between Russia, Ukraine, and the CIS countries, how is your relationship with Ukraine?
Bilateral relations of the Republic of Tajikistan and Ukraine are based on the inter-state document - the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Tajikistan and Ukraine from July 6, 2001. The fundamental principles of relationship include the trust and mutual understanding in the discussion and resolution of international and regional issues, where the positions of countries find mutual support.
Legal base between Tajikistan and Ukraine includes more than 80 legal documents which covers a wide range of cooperation between two countries in various fields.
The agreements "On main principles and directions of economic cooperation", "Free Trade", "On the attraction and mutual protection of investments" compose the basis for the economic cooperation between Tajikistan and Ukraine.
The role of an important coordinating element in the multilateral cooperation has the joint Tajik-Ukrainian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation established in 2002.
In the signed protocols of the meeting of the Commission committed a consensus on deepening the partnership in the construction of new and modernization of existing power facilities, the designing and construction of thermal power plants based on coal deposits on the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan, attracting Ukrainian investors to the economy of Tajikistan, joint industrial enterprises, including the production of various electrical equipment, mining and processing of natural resources and agricultural products.
Ukraine takes a leading position in export-import operations with the Republic of Tajikistan. The main imported goods from Ukraine to Tajikistan are foodstuff, canned goods, sugar, confectionery, pharmaceuticals, cement, bauxite, coal, coke, pitch, oil, synthetic corundum, aluminum oxide, aluminum hydroxide, motors and generators, turbines, paper, building materials, metal products, home appliances, agricultural equipment, tractors, machinery, products used in the electrical, railway cars, furniture and accessories.
The main exported goods from Tajikistan to Ukraine are raw cotton, food products, including fruit and vegetables, dried fruit.
Considering the events taking place in Ukraine, on 3 April this year during the meeting of the Council of CIS Foreign Ministers, I compared the situation in Ukraine with the situation in Tajikistan in the 90s, where Tajikistan has experienced a political controversy which led the country to serious economic consequences. In this regard, Tajikistan is interested in a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian question.
It should be noted that the President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon in his press statement after the SCO Summit has announced that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization welcomes Minsk Agreement on the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Ukraine. He stated: “…our common goal is to resist the new challenges and threats to the regional cooperation. In this regard, we welcome the outcome of the Minsk meeting of the interested parties to resolve the situation in the Eastern Ukraine, which is based on implementation of the plan of the President of Ukraine and the Russian President and initiatives aimed at a peaceful solution to this growing problem.”
Question 7. One final question Your Excellency, if you had the opportunity to convey a short, personal message to one of our 500,000 European readers, what would you say to them?
Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank your magazine for the reporting on the issues of international life of Tajikistan. I do believe that this interview will help the European readers to understand Tajikistan better. I am convinced that the acquaintance with the Republic of Tajikistan will serve as a significant step towards the understanding of the ongoing foreign policy aimed at the creation and development.
In conclusion, I would like to wish you and your readers a good health and great success.