The official visit of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Uzbekistan on April 23 and 24 kicked off with the number of fruitful agreements ranging from economic to cultural-humanitarian cooperation. The first day of the visit was marked by the ceremony of signing bilateral agreements focusing on trade, transportation, agriculture, science and technology, sports and education. As a result, the legal-regulatory framework between the two countries comprised of 180 documents has been substantially enlarged and provides a solid basis for further cooperation. This visit, which follows President Mirziyoyev’s to Turkmenistan last year, symbolises the culmination of the rapprochement between the two states, opening up new opportunities in the areas of cooperation in the process.
Within the framework of the two-day visit, the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan Business Forum aimed at fostering trade relations and realisation of new investment projects between Turkmen and Uzbek companies has been organised. Contracts and memorandums estimated at USD 250 million were signed.
In addition to the above-mentioned agreements and events, President Mirziyoyev announced the participation of Uzbekistan in a grand inter-regional energy project, TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project). Estimated at more than USD 8 billion, the TAPI project became one of the most significant highlights of the visit.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are holders of considerable amounts of hydrocarbons within their territories, accounting for the first and third place respectively in the Central Asian region, with China and Russia as the key recipients for gas exports. It should be noted, that both countries are part of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline that originates along their border. In this context, TAPI provides alternative solutions for the diversification of energy markets in the region and stabilisation of Afghanistan.
The participation of Uzbekistan to TAPI may foster a re-evaluation of partnerships in the region and underpin the debate on integration. Considering the very pro-active role that has been played recently by Uzbekistan in fostering intra-regional cooperation, its participation in TAPI infuses new momentum in the project to foster its realisation.
Considering the ongoing shift and dynamics in the relationship between the EU and Russia, Central Asia will become a spotlight for the energy market development in the decades to come. Abundant hydrocarbon resources of Central Asia place the energy sector high at in the political and economic agendas of external powers, including the EU, and make the region a compelling partner.
Gradual development of the cooperation in energy affairs can provide room for new investments and commitments from the EU within the framework of the new EU Central Asia Strategy due next year. There is much to be gained by both sides as the mutual cooperation can intensify economic diversification, competitiveness and the development of new export-import markets.
By Alberto J. Turkstra
European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) asbl
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