Uzbekistan Is a Special Country for Me
In early November, President of the Republic of Latvia Raimonds Vejonis assured the head of our state that friendly relations between Latvia and Uzbekistan will flourish. Such a statement was made in a message on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Today we have a guest - the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Latvia Mikhails Popkovs, who can tell us how to achieve that goal.
- Mr. Popkovs, in Tashkent you have been working since August, and the period of your service as Ambassador has coincided with a very active stage of reforming in Uzbekistan. What do you think about these changes, because today there are not so many countries in the world where practically every sphere of life is actively transforming?
- I have been working in Uzbekistan since quite recently, for about three months. Prior to that, I had headed diplomatic missions in Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, worked in our Embassy in Turkey. In general, I have sufficient experience in the CIS countries. But as for Central Asia, Uzbekistan is the first country.
Although for me it is a special country because I was born and spent my childhood here. I hope that my knowledge of mentality, culture of the people and positive impressions formed in my childhood will help in my work.
I have not been in Uzbekistan for more than 40 years, so essentially I came to another country, it changed very much. I see that the country is developing, Tashkent has changed beyond recognition. During this time, we managed to make a short visit to Samarkand, timing with the celebration of Independence Day, and the city was stunningly beautiful. Although it is ancient with amazing historical monuments, nevertheless it has also been transformed. It can be seen that the rapid development is not limited to the capital; the country is developing as a whole and very intensively.
Due to the little experience that I already have during these two-odd months, I want to underline the reforms implemented under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. They have effect on virtually every sphere of public life in the country. Especially important, in my opinion, is the liberalization of monetary policy, which not only opens up opportunities for attracting investments and developing exports, but also, on the whole, will improve the business environment.
I should note that Uzbekistan is Latvia’s leading partner in Central Asia, therefore the Embassy in Tashkent is a regional one, and from here we are in charge of cooperation with two other countries of the region - Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
- What do you think are the priority challenges facing our countries that await solution, so that relations really become prosperous?
- The other day we marked a significant date - 25 years from the date of establishment of diplomatic relations. Perhaps, historically, this is a small time interval, but for us this is a very significant period of development of interaction. During this time we have come a long way in the formation of mutually beneficial friendly relations. First of all, they are based on deep respect for each other’s interests, establishing ties and developing contacts in various fields.
The most successful and fruitfully developed is the political dialogue. Suffice it to say that in 25 years the President of Uzbekistan visited our country three times, and Presidents of the Republic of Latvia traveled to Uzbekistan also three times with a state visit. As far as we know, no such country of the European Union has had such an active exchange of visits at the highest level. This shows the high level of our relations, primarily in the context of maintaining political dialogue.
I cannot fail to note a lot of contacts at the parliamentary and governmental levels. The joint intergovernmental commission in the field of economy, science and culture worked productively and effectively.
As you can see, the countries over this period have created a solid base, including the legal one, which allows us to look to the future with confidence and continue to work both in the areas where there is already a successful experience of cooperation and to seek new mutually beneficial spheres.
I want to emphasize that the efforts of our state bodies were supplemented by public or people’s diplomacy, which includes cultural and humanitarian bonds.
Education is one of the brightest spheres of our relations. The number of Uzbek students in Latvia is constantly growing. In recent years, it has increased several times.
The demand for higher education in Latvia is encouraging. Well, for us, diplomats, this is primarily additional work related to visa issues and the consideration of applications for residence permits. Therefore, we have plans to improve it, to carry out the reconstruction of the consular department in order to increase the capacity and to ensure comfortable conditions for visitors.
We plan to continue active cultural exchange in the next year. In addition, in 2018, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Latvia will be celebrated. This is a great event, a serious cultural program is being prepared, which will be implemented in the partner countries. Today, at the stage of discussion with Uzbek friends are issues of cultural events in Tashkent and other regions of Uzbekistan.
The first half of 2018 also includes plans of visit by the chairman of the Saeima of Latvia to Uzbekistan. We also hope for government contacts. Recently, our Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Kaspars Gerhards visited Uzbekistan. We have a number of programs that are implemented in this field with the participation of Latvian experts. By the way, recently an international roundtable on implementation of regional reforms was held in Tashkent. Experts from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development also participated in it.
At one time in Latvia, we have come a long way in various issues of implementing regional reforms and are pleased to have the opportunity to share our experience with Uzbek friends. In general, the issues of regional development are very important for each country, from how the social security program is implemented there, the infrastructure is developing, how effectively the local authorities work, the mood and well-being of people, their power assessment index as a whole, depend much on how efficiently local bodies work.
Convinced that we have serious achievements, and in this direction the work will continue. Naturally, a lot depends on high-level visits, and we certainly hope for them, because they give a positive attitude and create a favorable atmosphere for the further prosperity of relations. In general, we are very optimistic about the future of our relations, given the solid legal framework that we have created over the past 25 years, the high level of political dialogue and mutual understanding between the leaders of our countries. And I am glad that optimism is based on concrete deeds and concrete projects.
- The Minister of Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan, Elyor Ganiev, has repeatedly noted that transport and logistics are fields that will promote further growth of trade. By the way, this figure in 2016 increased by 66.5% and amounted to approximately $ 300 million. But this is still very small. And can you name other areas than transport and logistics that can positively effect this figure?
- In addition to logistics and transport, I can name environmental protection, various areas of information technology, trade, agriculture, green technologies and Latvian experience in implementing administrative reforms, which, in our view, is very relevant for Uzbekistan today, as promising areas for cooperation. By the way, I want to emphasize that we cooperate with Uzbek partners in those areas where the practical impact of our interaction is most effective. And we are ready to share not only positive experience of reforms, but also to talk about the problems and difficulties that we encountered on this path and even, perhaps, some mistakes that we made because the experience of reforms is always complex and ambiguous.
Earlier this year, Uzbekistan registered the representation of the Latvian Clintex cluster - an association of the largest organizations that are engaged in green technologies, i.e. issues of environmental protection, the impact of industrial enterprises on the environment, sewage treatment. They have identified the development of green energy, the effective use of water resources, which is very important for the Republic of Uzbekistan today.
And within the framework of this cluster we intend to closely cooperate. In particular, in late November - early December, we plan to make a visit together with representatives of the cluster to Bukhara, Navoi and Karshi. And there already on the ground will be discussed specific projects.
Cooperation not only bilateral cooperation plays a significant role in cooperation, but also Latvia’s participation in multilateral projects in the framework of programs implemented by the European Union, the United Nations, USAID. In other words, we are leading partners in the implementation of these programs in a number of areas. For example, in BOMCA, the EU’s program for effective border control and management. It has a long history, at the moment its ninth stage is being realized. In my opinion, even for Uzbekistan, the issue of border control is quite relevant. Last week, a seminar was held in Tashkent with the participation of a representative delegation of Latvia, which included experts from the border, migration services, and the IT sector.
As you can see, the definition of gained great potential in the political, economic and cultural spheres is not just words, they are based on specific content.
But regarding economic relations and cooperation of our businessmen, I must say that the dynamics here are ambiguous. If in 2016 the turnover of goods was registered by about 42%, then this year we see a slowdown in positive dynamics. The explanation for this is not an easy one; it’s a separate issue, which is connected with logistics, transit and, of course, investments.
However, it is positive that the mutual interest is growing, on the part of Latvian entrepreneurs; we see a significant increase in interest in cooperation and joint projects in Uzbekistan, especially in recent months, when a large-scale reform began to liberalize foreign trade activities.
After all, mutual investments directly affect the increase in trade turnover. By the way, we have a number of investment projects in the textile industry and pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical products have always been a significant part of Latvian exports to Uzbekistan. In this segment, cooperation continues and, we hope, will develop in a positive direction. At present, the creation of joint projects in Uzbekistan for the localization of products, which could be exported to the world market, is being discussed.
By the way, in the field of joint venture creation we have an excellent experience. For example, at the exhibition EXPO2017 in Astana in the Uzbek pavilion the products of a joint Latvian-Uzbek enterprise - electric car were presented. We can be proud of the fact that the joint venture in a short time was able to create a product that Uzbekistan considered it possible to present at a worldwide exhibition.
We place great hopes on trading houses. At the end of August, within the framework of the meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission, it was announced the establishment of a Trade House in Latvia, which would specialize in exporting Uzbek fruit and vegetable products. The increase in exports in this sector is very important for Uzbekistan; President Shavkat Mirziyoyev put this task before the government.
The trading house is conceived as a kind of hub with well-thought-out logistics, capacious specialized warehousing facilities, and the creation in Uzbekistan of a laboratory for certification of products supplied to European markets. That is, it will be a trade hub from where fruit and vegetable products could enter the Baltic markets and further to the markets of Europe, primarily the North.