Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev on April 15 signed agreements in Almaty dealing with mutual investment protection and avoidance of dual taxation. Belgium announced that it would shortly become the thirteenth member-country of the European Union (EU) to sign the EU Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation with Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan ratified the agreement last May. (Russian agencies, April 16)
From Kazakhstan’s point of view, Belgium is more important as an investor than as a trading partner. Though total trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $53.4 million in 1997, Belgium is only Kazakhstan’s fourteenth largest European trading partner. And while Belgian investment in Kazakhstan is, quantitatively, still relatively minor–being far outstripped last year by the top five investors of South Korea, Britain, China, the United States and Indonesia, in descending order–it includes the Belgian utilities company Tractebel. Tractebel last June won a fifteen-year concession to operate Kazakhstan’s western and southern gas distribution systems, and signed a contract envisaging $600 million worth of investment to modernize those systems.
The high profile given to Prime Minister Dehaene’s visit is most likely explained, therefore, by recent disagreements between Tractebel and the Kazakhstani government. (See Monitor, February 20) President Nazarbaev last week expressed not only his admiration for Belgium as a model of successful bilingualism and multi-ethnicity, but also his assurances that Belgian investment in Kazakhstan would be protected. Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev, who has come in for a good deal of criticism from Tractebel in recent months, agreed that “there are no differences between the two sides” but warned that his government will “closely monitor contract fulfillment by the foreign investor.” (Delovaya nedelya [Almaty], April 16) Overall, the publicity given the visit indirectly underscores the increasing importance President Nazarbaev assigns to the goodwill of foreign companies. –SC
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