Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 6

Presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan met on January 5-6 in Almaty for a summit of the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC), a Russian-approved subgroup within the CIS. Vyacheslav Trubnikov, first deputy minister of foreign affairs and special envoy for CIS affairs, represented President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which has observer status with CAEC.

The summit in effect pronounced the CAEC stillborn. It was only last year that the CAEC had adopted a Strategy of Integrated Development for the period 2000-2005, with the priority goal of forming a “common economic space” within the first two years. The strategy focused on creating quadripartite interstate consortiums in such key economic sectors as irrigation and hydropower, oil, gas and metallic ore extraction, crop cultivation–with a view to achieving self-sufficient food supplies–and investment banking, for which purpose the Central Asian Cooperation and Development Bank was created.

These plans eventually foundered on three main obstacles: first, the countries’ inability to resolve bilateral differences, owing to their quest for unilateral short-term advantages; second, mutual insolvency and lack of internally generated capital; and, third and most fundamentally, the search by all these countries for long-term economic partnerships with more developed countries outside the region and indeed outside the CIS. The permanently neutral Turkmenistan has stayed out of the CAEC.

According to Karimov, at the summit, “the CAEC has in many ways repeated the experience of the CIS,” with 256 CAEC decisions adopted but not implemented, and another thirty-four currently under consideration with no better prospects. Many of the CAEC’s documents have proven as “totally redundant” as those of the CIS, Karimov concluded. On his initiative, the summit gave preliminary approval to recasting the CAEC as an Economic Forum, a debating body with diluted functions, broader nongovernmental participation and a flexible agenda. The forum’s inaugural session is tentatively scheduled for April-May of this year in Tashkent.

The summit resolved, furthermore, to order an audit of the renamed Central Asian Reconstruction Bank and to change for the second time the bank’s status and mode of operation–a hint at irregularities and/or mismanagement (Itar-Tass, RIA, Khabar news agency, Uzbek Television, January 5-6).