Uzbekistan comes under pressure from external actors

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Washington warned Tashkent that joining the EEU is undesirable

Pursuing membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) by Uzbekistan may complicate the process of the country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said at the Uzbek-American business forum in Washington. Experts believe that Uzbekistan came under external pressure. Wilbur Ross called on the Uzbek side to carefully study the impact of the new agreements in the context of WTO accession. According to him, accession to the trade organization is one of the most significant goals of market reforms."

We strongly support this effort and look forward to the government’s response to questions from the WTO’s Memorandum of Foreign Trade Regime. At the same time, we encourage our Uzbek partners to carefully consider the impact of new agreements on WTO accession. For example, pursuing membership right now in the Eurasian Economic Union could complicate and extend the WTO accession process beyond the timeline set by Uzbekistan’s leaders," Ross emphasized. He noted that U.S. trade with Uzbekistan has increased significantly, from $136 million in 2017 to almost $300 million in 2018. At the same time, U.S. exports to Uzbekistan exceeded $455 million in January-August. "Uzbekistan has a real chance to become the leading export destination for U.S. goods in Central Asia this year," the American minister said.

As Vestnik Kavkaza reported earlier, a process of reformatting relations with regional organizations is underway in Uzbekistan. Weaknesses and strengths, pluses and minuses of Uzbekistan’s entry into the EEU are studied, an Uzbek-Russian working group has been created. Discussions are ongoing at the expert level. As first deputy chairman of the Uzbek Senate Sadik Safaev noted, "no pressure was exerted on Tashkent [from the Russian Federation - VK] on this issue." "Uzbekistan is not a country that can be dictated," Safayev said.

However, experts regard the statement by Ross precisely as pressure on Tashkent. "It has started ... Now Uzbekistan will be drawn into a showdown between world centers of power," Director of the Center for Research Initiatives 'Ma'no' Bakhtiyor Ergashev wrote on Facebook. The expert believes that at first Uzbekistan should implement its development programs and projects scheduled up to 2030-2035 in order to get a qualitatively new country and a new economy. "Having solved the problem of unemployment, energy shortages, building a modern transport system and a system of international transport corridors, providing a breakthrough in agriculture and industrial development, it would be worth thinking about whether to join the WTO and the EEU," Ergashev noted. He explained that the WTO is an instrument of globalization, while the EEU is an instrument of regionalization. The U.S., which controls the WTO, want Uzbekistan to join the WTO, which is controlled by them, but at the same time they do not want it to be in the EEU, which they do not control. Because the EEU with Uzbekistan and the EEU without Uzbekistan are two different values," the expert noted.

"The West sees the EEU as an attempt to restore the empire. Although, when examined more closely, the EEU is a completely different institution and works on different principles. It is clear that when you consider the division of the world in this paradigm, the entry of such a large and regional player as Uzbekistan into the EEU is a serious geopolitical loss from the Western point of view. Therefore, the U.S. will try to politically influence Tashkent, and possibly threaten it, as in this particular case, calling the entry of Uzbekistan into the WTO into question," head of the Center for Central Asia and Caucasus Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Stanislav Pritchin, told Vestnik Kavkaza.

But the expert believes that there are few mechanisms of this pressure. The United States is not a major trading partner of Uzbekistan to limit trade or reduce the flow of investment. American companies are more interested in joining the Central Asian republic's market. "Uzbekistan's dynamically developing market attracts the attention of large investors," Pritchin emphasized. For example, the American CNH Industrial plans to organize the production of cotton-picking machines and agricultural machinery in Uzbekistan. A test batch of 45 vehicles has already been delivered to Tashkent, Syrdarya, Jizzakh, Navoi and Kashkadarya regions. Other American companies are also showing interest in cooperation, in particular, Boeing, Coca-Cola, John Deer, Caterpillar Inc., VISA Inc, ExxonMobil.

Another global player, China, has not yet expressed its position on Uzbekistan’s accession to the EEU. Beijing hasn't have an issue with Kyrgyzstan's accession to the EEU, although the republic was a secret 'gateway' of Chinese goods to the CIS countries. The reason for such loyalty, according to the expert, is that between the leaders of Russia and China have agreements on the conjugation of two projects - the EEU and the Belt and Road Initiative".

"This agreement hasn't been implemented, but there is a political decision that the Belt and Road projects and the EEU are not directed against each other. There are also intersection points where the cooperation is possible. The main thing is that there is no opposition. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine that China will have serious objections against Uzbekistan’s membership in the EEU," Stanislav Pritchin said.

© Photo :Washington warned Tashkent that joining the EEU is undesirable