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Uzbekistan Update: October 1-15, 2023
Biweekly update on key developments in Uzbekistan
“Human rights and democracy are key elements of our new agreement and, of course, the basis underpinning GSP+. As we get closer to Uzbekistan, we will strengthen our dialogue to ensure that our partners keep their promises and continue the broad path of reforms.”
Deputy President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas during his speech in the EU Parliament
I. 1st Annual Europe-Uzbekistan Business Meetings - Connecting Europe's and Uzbekistan businesses in the heart of Europe
Date: Friday, 27 October, 2023
Time: 09:30-15:00 Brussels time
Location: Brussels, Belgium
EUROUZ is organizing the First Annual Business Meeting Europe-Uzbekistan in Brussels with the participation of high-ranking representatives of the government of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the European Union, as well as European companies and investors from throughout the European Union.
You can find the program and still register to attend on the event website until October 25th
EUROUZ & MEMBER NEWS
I. EUROUZ welcomes a new Association member - ENERA
ENERA actively cooperates with local and international partners in developing joint projects in the Republic of Uzbekistan that help create jobs and improve the quality of life of the country's population. By creating products with high added value, ENERA contributes to the development of exports and the progressive growth of the national economy.
Read more about the ENERA and its achievements here
2. EUROUZ welcomes a new Association member - VEOLIA
VEOLIA aims to lead in ecological transformation, operating on five continents with 220,000 employees. The company promotes resource access, preservation, and renewal through three core activities. In 2022, it supplied 111 million people with drinking water and 97 million with sanitation, produced 44 million megawatt hours, and recovered 61 million tonnes of waste, generating EUR 42.885 billion in revenue.
Since July 2022, VEOLIA, via a subsidiary of VEOLIA Energy Tashkent, has managed Tashkent's District Heating Network, serving over 1.2 million individuals and 10,000 legal entities, and overseeing 1,500 km of networks and 218 boiler houses with 3,600 employees. This 30-year project aims to enhance heating energy quality, modernize operations, and transition from an open to a closed heating system.
For more information here
These are classic neighbourhood stores, characterized by a convenient location, a wide range of products, and significant savings in shopping time.
Each Korzinka Mahalla will have:
- coffee area and expanded selection of ready-to-eat products,
- new product categories, for example, fresh flowers,
- over 4,200 unique product items (SKU).
The first pilot store Korzinka Mahalla - Yangi Sebzor opened on October 6, and the official launch of Korzinka Mahalla - Bo'ston took place on October 10.
“We are passionate about saving time for our customers at our company. That's why we listened to their feedback and created a new format that would make shopping even faster and more convenient. This is how Korzinka Mahalla appeared. Our goal is to bring this new format to every mahalla and offer convenient and modern retail to more people,” – said Zafar Khashimov, Founder and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Korzinka supermarket chain.
4. EUROUZ member KY & Partners advises the Republic of Uzbekistan on the Uzbek law aspects of the tender offer for the London Stock Exchange
EUROUZ member KY & Partners have advised the Ministry of Economy and Finance of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the Uzbek law aspects of its tender offer to holders of UZS 2 trillion 14.50% notes due 2023 and on its placement of $660 million 7.85% notes due 2028 and UZS 4.25 trillion 16.25% notes due 2026 on the London Stock Exchange. Notably, the tender offer was the first of its kind for the Republic of Uzbekistan, made as part of Uzbekistan’s proactive management of its liabilities, and the UZS-denominated Eurobonds are the first green sovereign bonds issued in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Not a EUROUZ member yet?
1. INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
The Czech President met with Uzbekistan's Prime Minister during the latter's official visit. They discussed cooperation prospects in trade, energy, transport, tourism, agriculture, culture, education, and research. The Uzbek delegation also met representatives from companies like Skoda and Omnipol and visited high-tech production facilities. The visit concluded with investment and trade agreements worth over €800 million.
Uzbekistan aims to export products meeting the European Union's standards and has agreed with the Czech Republic to cooperate in testing for CE certification of its industrial products. Currently, about 50 enterprises in Uzbekistan involve Czech capital. Trade between the countries has increased 2.5 times from January to August, boosted by Uzbekistan joining the EU's "GSP+" preferential system.
The joint statement from the summit referred to an agreement to establish a “Strategic Regional Partnership” between Germany and Central Asia. Within this framework, the two sides would “consolidate and upgrade the existing cooperation” under four areas: economy, energy, and natural resources; regional cooperation and resilience; climate and environment; and people-to-people contacts.
During Uzbekistan President's visit to Germany, Uzbekistan's Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Complex (AMMC) signed a $2.55bn agreement with Germany's KfW IPEX-Bank to finance a new copper smelting complex. AMMC aims to double its production of copper, gold, and silver with this state-of-the-art, environmentally-conscious facility. KfW IPEX-Bank, a subsidiary of KfW Group, will provide financing and advisory support.
1.2 CENTRAL ASIA & CAUCASUS
Kazakhstan's Deputy Minister of Energy has stated the country's willingness to increase oil exports to Uzbekistan if given better terms than with other countries. He refuted claims of Russian oil taking over the Uzbek market from Kazakhstan. Currently, Kazakhstan transports 87,000 tons of oil to Uzbekistan. Russian media had reported a surge in Russian oil transit to Uzbekistan through Kazakhstan. Earlier, Uzbekistan had agreed to import 300,000 tons of Russian oil, with "KazTransOil" aiming to transport a reduced figure of 180,000 tons.
1.3 RUSSIA & CHINA
Starting October 7th, Uzbekistan began importing gas from Russia through a two-year contract between "UzGasTrade" and "Gazprom Export" for 2.8 billion cubic meters annually. This shift is historic as gas was previously supplied from Uzbekistan to Russia. The initiative will address Uzbekistan's gas deficit during the autumn-winter season due to economic and population growth. Discussions for longer-term contracts with "Gazprom" are underway. The gas is channeled via the Central Asia-Center pipeline, benefiting both Kazakhstan's northern regions and primarily Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan and Russia signed two agreements on October 6th related to oil product supplies. The first focuses on expanding oil supplies, while the second ensures priority for oil products delivered by rail. In April, an agreement was made to import 300,000 tons of oil from Gazprom Neft in 2023.
Presidents of Uzbekistan and Russia agreed on a Joint Statement to deepen their strategic partnership and alliance. In a meeting, they exchanged 10 documents to enhance cooperation between the two countries. The agreements include the establishment of a Russian Consulate in Samarkand, mutual recognition of economic operators, a high-speed rail project named 'Agroexpress', a cooperation program for the years 2024-2025, and collaboration in transport, science, education, and culture.
At the regional forum in Kazan, Uzbekistan, and Russia signed a series of agreements, including the construction of a Wildberries logistics hub in the Tashkent region, the supply of metro cars from Russia, the exchange of expertise in water supply and drainage, and the development of e-commerce with the Ozon marketplace.
On October 8, an Uzbekistan delegation visited Hangzhou, China, to meet with China's Premier. They discussed potential trade growth to $12-13 billion, emphasizing collaboration in green energy and smart agriculture. A proposal for an Uzbek-Chinese tech-based industrial park was also introduced. The delegation also met with major Chinese firms, such as Huawei and Silk Road Fund, to bolster bilateral ties.
In August, Uzbekistan exported natural gas to China worth $75.27 million. From January to August, the total gas exports were $370.57 million, a 1.6-fold decrease compared to the previous year due to an early-year energy crisis in Uzbekistan. In contrast, August 2022 saw exports of $112.28 million. Russia led gas supplies to China with $7.96 billion over eight months. Discrepancies exist in gas export data from Uzbekistan and China, with China possibly accounting for Turkmen gas transit. Uzbekistan's significant gas import increase might explain its budget deficit growth.
1.4 NORTH & SOUTH AMERICAS
Brazil is considering opening an embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This was discussed during a meeting between Uzbekistan's Ambassador and Brazil's Ambassador to the USA, on October 5. Bilateral trade has recently reached $500 million USD, with Uzbekistan emerging as Brazil's main economic partner in Central Asia. The two countries plan to enhance collaboration on exports and are organizing an official visit of the Uzbek ambassador to Brazil by year-end.
1.5 MIDDLE EAST, EAST ASIA, & SOUTH-EAST ASIA
Several bilateral agreements were signed during talks between Uzbekistan's President and Qatar's Emir. These encompassed cooperation in sectors such as tourism, business events, social protection, internal affairs, investment, anti-corruption, interfaith dialogue, human rights, and commerce, culminating in creating a joint business council between both nations. The leaders also emphasized supporting the Trans-Afghan railway and providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Al Mirqab Capital: Talks focused on cooperation in hotel infrastructure, tourism, logistics, and energy. The company plans investments in logistics, hotel complexes, and power generation in Uzbekistan. '
Power International Holding: Discussions involved livestock clusters, highways, ammonia and urea production, and infrastructure development in Uzbekistan. They plan to open an office in Uzbekistan.
Nebras Power: Cooperation was discussed on building power plants in Uzbekistan and establishing energy storage systems and wind power generation.
Qatar Investment Agency: The focus was on attracting investments in green energy, transportation modernization, and banking and financial services. A follow-up bilateral meeting is planned
A delegation from Uzbekistan's Namangan Region in South Korea. They've agreed to enhance regional relations and fast-track projects. They signed $10 million worth of agreements for tourism, land development, and establishing an agricultural logistics center in Namangan.
2. PUBLIC POLICY
Uzbekistan's government has approved "green energy" certificates. The "Green Economy Projects Center" will manage these, each representing 1,000 kWh from renewable sources. Certificates are issued once per reporting period and are valid indefinitely. A one-time fee is required for power generators, ranging from €500 to €1000 based on capacity. Introduced as part of the 2023 state program, these certificates are an alternative to solar installations, targeting 30% clean energy. Starting in July, "Uzbekhydroenergo" was the first participant, with others joining in October.
Tashkent's "Toshkent Shahar Suv Ta'minoti" enterprise announced plans to increase drinking water and sewage service prices due to rising maintenance costs. Proposed rates for individuals are 1,400 sums per cubic meter of water (up from 400-700 sum) and 1,000 sum for sewage. For legal entities, the rates are 3,000 sums for water and 2,200 sums for sewage. These prices, still lower than other regions, will be finalized after a local deputy review and a subsequent press conference.
Below is a EUROUZ infographic showing how the prices for essential commodities will impact the population at large as of October 1 (also local rail transport costs as of October 20):
3.1. LEGISLATIVE CHANGES
At the 45th plenary session of the Senate Oliy Majlis, amendments to the laws were discussed. Senators approved changes introducing administrative penalties for individuals in public places with faces covered to a degree that prevents identification. This is to enhance the effectiveness of information programs under the "Safe City" concept. Exceptions to the rule will be considered.
From January 1, 2024, Uzbekistan will shift to market-based tariffs for freight and high-speed train services. Freight rail transport discounts will be decided by the Cabinet of Ministers from 2024. Starting from 2025, the state budget will compensate for certain rail transport losses. Until 2027, rail service companies importing specific equipment will enjoy zero customs duty. By 2024, "Uzbekistan Railways" will establish new entities to oversee various railway functions.
The Ministry of Digital Technologies of Uzbekistan is proposing changes to simplify the registration of IMEI codes. Notably, they aim to extend the registration period for citizens coming from abroad. Currently, their SIM card is deactivated after 30 days if the IMEI code is not registered; this duration is set to increase. There's also a plan to introduce IMEI code registration using Face ID technology. This move follows feedback and challenges faced since the mandatory IMEI registration system's introduction in April 2019. The system became chargeable in December 2019, facing public dissatisfaction due to its complex registration process and associated fees.
On October 5th, TikTok PTE LTD, based in Singapore, registered in Uzbekistan as a VAT payer, according to the Tax Committee's data. This makes it the 55th foreign company to register for taxation in the country. A 12% VAT will now be included in the service's fees. Since July 2021, TikTok has been listed as violating the "Personal Data" law, which mandates servers processing Uzbekistan citizens' data to be located within the country. In March 2022, Uzbekistan's Minister of Digital Technologies, discussed user data security on the platform with TikTok's Vice-President, suggesting the company establish a local office.
3.2. GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS
Deputy Major of the Kashkadarya region - head of the regional department of investment, industry, and trade.
Appointed - Olimkhon Rustamov
Previously served as - Deputy Minister of Economy and Investment
Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Israel.
Appointed - Jahongir Aminov
Previously served as - Head of the Directorate for Attracting Foreign Investments and Financial and Technical Assistance of the Main Directorate for Foreign Economic Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan
Chairman of the Board of the new Business Development Bank
Appointed - Annaklichev Sakhi
Previously served as - Chairman of the Board of Uzsanoatkurilishbank
Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to UNESCO
Appointed - Kamol Mukhtarov
Previously served in - Responsible positions in the presidential administration of Uzbekistan.
First Deputy Head of the Sanitary and Epidemiological Committee
Appointed - Nurmat Atabekov
Previously served as - Deputy Chairman of the Epidemiological Committee
4.1 KEY ECONOMIC INDICATORS, LOANS, & PUBLIC FINANCE
Uzbekistan has issued $349.2 million in green sovereign international bonds on the London Stock Exchange to fund eco-friendly projects. These include water conservation, improved transportation, sanitation, and tree planting. Due to strong demand, the interest rate for 3-year bonds dropped from 18% to 16.25%. Additionally, Uzbekistan issued international bonds worth $660 million with an interest rate of 8.125%. Amidst global rising interest rates, several countries, like Uzbekistan, borrow at higher costs.
In September 2023, Uzbekistan's inflation reached 1.24%, the highest in three years. This surge was driven by a 1.8% increase in food prices, 1% in non-food items, and 0.6% in services. From January to September, the overall inflation rate rose to 5.13%.
Uzbekistan is resuming state subsidies for mortgage loans, as announced by the Unified Portal of Interactive Public Services. The subsidies target low-income families seeking better housing conditions, based on social criteria set by the government in March 2020. Eligibility varies based on location and income, with specific income ranges set for rural areas, cities in Karakalpakstan and regions, and Tashkent.
In September 2023, Uzbekistan's perceived inflation was 13.3%, decreasing by 1.2% from the previous month, according to the Central Bank. This rate is 4.1% higher than the official 9.2% rate. Notably, 53% of respondents observed significant price hikes for bread and flour. Regional inflation was highest in Tashkent at 14.8%.
4.2 TRADE AND BUSINESS
Uzbekistan intends to buy 6 high-speed trains from South Korea's Hyundai Rotem and 30 electric trains from Czech's Skoda, financed by loans totaling €535 million with state guarantees. A €185 million loan from Korea's EDCF will fund the Hyundai deal, while a €350 million loan from Czech banks will support the Skoda purchase. Both companies are prominent train suppliers globally.
During a meeting between the president of Uzbekistan and the head of Singapore's Indorama Corporation, plans were discussed to increase Indorama's investment in Uzbekistan to $850 million. The company aims to enhance the capacity of "Ferganaazot" and participate in privatization initiatives. Additionally, the sides talked about setting up production in the textile and agricultural sectors. Following the completion of these projects, the company's direct investment in Uzbekistan will rise from the current $600 million to $850 million. A roadmap for promoting priority projects will be developed.
4.3 BANKING & FINANCE
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is aligning its investments with its financial priorities in Uzbekistan, focusing on sectors like energy efficiency, renewable energy, water management, and support for SMEs. Notably, the EIB invested $83.6 million in Uzbekistan's 2023 solar program for the development of photovoltaic facilities. In total, EIB's investments in Uzbekistan amount to 410 million euros, and the bank is keen on supporting green activities and practices in the region.
The World Bank forecasts Uzbekistan's GDP growth to be around 5.5% this year and 5.6% next year. However, consumption growth is expected to decline due to reduced money transfers from Russia. The poverty rate will decrease slightly. In 2023, the GDP growth is projected to approach 5.5% and may gradually accelerate in the mid-term, reaching 5.6% and 5.8% in 2024 and 2025, respectively. The state debt is expected to rise to 36% of GDP in 2023 and peak at 36.6% in 2024. Despite expanding state social protection programs, the poverty rate among the population in 2023 is predicted to decrease slightly to 13.9%.
Uzbekistan and the World Bank signed an agreement on a project that will help the country reduce emissions by 60 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2027, as well as liberalize energy tariffs. Part of the project funds will be spent on protecting vulnerable households from rising energy prices.
The Central Bank has restricted AVO Bank from certain operations due to its charter capital falling below the required 200 billion sums. AVO Bank's current capital is 105 billion sums. Foreign company Support Level purchased "Uzgaroexportbank" for $5 million, renaming it "AVO bank". Originally, Russia's Sovcombank was to buy "Uzgaroexportbank" for $4 million, but the deal was canceled after concerns about transparency.
On October 12, Uzbekistan's President mandated the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) to oversee the country's industrial policy and its core industrial development. This responsibility was previously held by the Ministry of Investments, Industry, and Trade (MIIT). The MEF's primary roles now include implementing a unified state industrial policy, developing strategies for key sectors, ensuring balanced resource distribution, and enhancing productivity and operational efficiency. In essence, the MEF has been empowered to modernize and strategically drive the nation's industrial growth.
4.4 TRANSPORTATION & LOGISTICS
By the end of the year, several new companies will be established based on "Uzbekistan Railways", focusing on infrastructure, cargo wagons, logistics, passenger transportation (including high-speed trains), and station management. This restructuring follows the president's announcement in September about transforming the company into a holding. Additionally, from 2024, state regulation of ticket prices for high-speed trains will be abolished, with tariffs set based on market principles.
4.5 AGRICULTURE, MINING, & MANUFACTURING
On October 11-12 in Tashkent, a forum gathered 140 participants from Central Asia and Turkey to discuss enhancing rights and opportunities for women in agriculture. Organized by multiple entities, including UNDP, and funded by the EU, the forum emphasized the crucial role of rural women in agriculture and food security. Discussions included expanding women's rights, digital technologies in food production, and sustainable development strategies. Over 40% of Uzbekistan's agricultural workforce is women, and their empowerment is seen as key to promoting gender equality and boosting food security.
4.6 ENERGY & PETROCHEMICALS
"Uzbekneftegaz" and "Gazprom Neft" have signed an agreement to optimize drilling processes at Uzbekistan's oil fields, according to an "Uzbekneftegaz" press release. During the Russian Energy Week, the companies agreed that "Gazpromneft-Noyabrskneftegaz" will develop engineering solutions for well construction and operation in Uzbekistan. Using Russian technologies, "Uzbekneftegaz" will reduce well construction times by 20%. The parties also consider establishing a drilling management center at "Uzbekneftegaz" using "Gazprom Neft" software and best practices.
The government has introduced "Green Energy" certificates, managed by the "Green Economy Projects Center." Each certificate represents 1000 kWh of renewable energy. Applicants must register on the I-REC platform and pay a one-time fee based on their generation capacity. The registration lasts for 5 years, after which renewal is required.
President has outlined plans to build a wind power station in the Kungrad region of Karakalpakstan, with details published on Lex.uz. Saudi company ACWA Power will invest in the project, which includes a 1500 MW wind farm, a 300 MW energy storage system, a 500-kilovolt substation, and transmission lines. The projects will be managed by ACWA Power's subsidiaries: Kungrad Wind 1, 2, and 3, each responsible for a 500 MW wind farm and a 100 MW storage system. The total investment for the construction is $2.4 billion. "National Power Networks" has committed to purchasing the electricity produced for 25 years. Construction of Central Asia's largest wind farm is set to begin in 2024 and will be operational by the end of 2026.
Uzbekistan is setting up the "Agency for the Development and Regulation of the Energy Market" as an energy market regulator, according to a presidential decree from September 28. The agency will oversee the transition to a competitive electricity market by 2025, license market participants, and determine tariffs. While the initial plan involved three phases, adjustments aim for a clearer market-driven approach by 2023. However, these transitions are still in progress.
Uzbekistan is establishing "Uzenergosotish," a company responsible for centralized electricity purchase and sales. Concurrently, "National Electric Networks of Uzbekistan" will handle electricity transportation and transit. By July 1, 2024, "Uzenergosotish" will fully take over centralized electricity purchase and sales functions, with NЭСU handling main power grid operations. From 2025, NЭСU's obligations for electricity export and import will transition to "Uzenergosotish." Initially, electricity will be sold at set tariffs, but later through an online trading platform at market prices. By March 1, 2024, a package of documents governing the wholesale and retail electricity markets will be adopted. Also, an Agency for the Development and Regulation of the Energy Market is being established to oversee the phased creation of electricity markets and support competition.
By 2026, plans are underway to increase green energy capacity to 8 GW, as reported by "Uzbekistan 24" TV channel. For context, at the beginning of 2022, the total capacity of all power stations in Uzbekistan was 16 GW, compared to 6.5 GW in Tajikistan and 0.9 GW in Kyrgyzstan. According to the International Energy Agency, the global share of green technologies in the energy sector will reach 43% in seven years.
Gas production in Uzbekistan from January to August 2023 was 31.39 billion cubic meters, a decline of 9.4% compared to the same period in the previous year. In contrast, electricity production increased by 5.7% during the first eight months, with a total production of 51.7 billion kWh. Over 85% of the electricity is produced by thermal power plants using gas. Coal production for the period reached 3.77 million tons, a 10.4% increase. Oil production slightly grew by 0.1%, while automobile gasoline production increased by 16%. Diesel fuel production saw a significant increase of 1.6 times compared to the previous year, but heat energy production decreased by 8.3% and gas condensate by 6.8%.
How much Russian gas will Uzbekistan receive by the end of the year?
USEFUL LINKS AND NOTABLE PUBLICATIONS
How the Russia-Ukraine War Is Reshaping EU-Uzbekistan Relations (The Diplomat) by Shakhzodbek Makhmudov, head of EUROUZ Tashkent branch
Political scientist Jennifer Murtazashvili comments on the development of C5+1 relations (Daryo.uz)
ING: Uzbekistan posting solid growth rates, key focus is now the soum (Intellinews)
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Uzbekistan (Document)
How the EU Can Contribute to the Green Transition in Central Asia (The Diplomat)
C5+ Germany: Germany Discusses Cooperation with Central Asia (Caspian Policy Center)
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