Yesterday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov met in Samarkand to discuss trade opportunities for the two countries. Moscow, which is interested in Tashkent joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), is hopeful that such a move would remove many obstacles to business and is something that should be especially important to Uzbekistan. The Uzbek side, however, refuses to speak publicly on whether they intend to join the union or not. That being said, they do show interest in industrial cooperation and joint projects like a gas union between Moscow, Tashkent, and Astana.
Mikhail Mishustin’s visit to Uzbekistan is part of Russia’s continued strategy of strengthening ties with partners outside the EAEU “five” in difficult geopolitical times. The visit began with an informal program, and the official part happened on Friday. Mishustin met with Aripov at the Russian-Uzbek business forum, then they discussed opportunities for cooperation at a joint commission meeting. As the prime minister said, this commission format emphasizes Russia’s close relationship with Uzbekistan; it is used only with a few countries.
Though Uzbekistan is not a member of the EAEU, Russia is its main trade partner in terms of volume. In January-October of this year, mutual trade between the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan totaled $7.5 billion (a 30.5% increase from the same period in 2021). Given the sanctions and withdrawal of Western businesses from Russia, it’s important for Moscow to maintain this success rate going forward. Yesterday, Maxim Reshetnikov—head of the Economic Ministry—noted that now Uzbekistani enterprises have an opening to occupy niches that have developed in the Russian market as a result of Western sanctions and withdrawal.
“Russia is interested in bringing Uzbekistan deeper into the EAEU (they currently are an observer).”
As Mikhail Mishustin has said, the creation of full-fledged membership in the EAEU will give a strong impetus to creating direct cooperative ties between countries. This will lead to removing obstacles such as tariffs and other trade barriers.
Among the advantages of integration with EAEU countries, is the fact that labor migrants are able to move freely in Russia without a patent. This is significant given the pilot project for the recruitment of Uzbek citizens to work in Russia which is expanding. The head of Uzbekistan’s National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, Maxim Reshetnikov, believes that integration would allow Uzbekistan to increase its total exports by 30%.
“Tashkent, in contrast, has been very careful to limit its involvement with the union.”
While it isn’t certain, there’s a good chance that there are serious risks involved with joining the WTO. Abdulla Aripov didn’t discuss this at all in the public part of yesterday’s events.
If these conditions continue to prevail, then we will enter a new stage of cooperation, in which joint projects will be more substantive. Agriculture, pharmaceuticals, mechanical engineering, as well as transport infrastructure (particularly the construction of new transnational corridors), and fuel and energy complexes are regarded as promising areas. Yesterday the project of a “tripartite” gas union was discussed. According to yesterday’s meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said that this is a “more detailed” use of the infrastructure connecting Russia’s pipeline with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in order to meet their domestic needs and increase Russian exports. Tashkent has shown interest in this project (in Astana there was previously talk about this issue “needing to be looked into”).