But even if Tashkent’s numbers are correct, they still make Uzbekistan out to be the slowest-growing Central Asian economy in 2000. GDP growth was reported up a whopping 18 percent in Turkmenistan last year, and while the quality and quantity of Ashgabat’s official data leave a great deal to be desired, it is clear that Turkmenistan last year enjoyed an energy boom due to strong growth in gas exports to Russia and Ukraine. Thanks to high energy prices and strong export growth to Russia, Kazakhstan reported 10 percent GDP growth last year, while continuing recover from the 1992-1997 and support from the IMF and World Bank helped Tajikistan to report 8 percent output growth. And Kyrgyzstan finally bounced back from the August 1998 financial crisis in 2000, reporting 5 percent GDP growth (Sotsial’no-Ekonomicheskoye Polozhenie Rossii, February 2001)
Foreign trade seems to be one of the key factors differentiating Uzbekistan’s growth from the other Central Asian countries’ in 2000. Virtually all CIS countries reported strong export growth last year. Russian imports from other CIS countries rose nearly 30 percent last year, and buoyant growth in the international economy allowed most of the CIS to register large increases in exports to non-CIS countries as well. This strong export performance generally helped CIS countries to reduce their current account deficits while still financing import growth–even without much financial assistance from the IMF and World Bank. By contrast, Uzbekistan’s exports were reported up only 1 percent in 2000–and imports fell 5 percent. Since the share of Uzbekistan’s exports to other CIS countries rose from 26 percent to 39 percent in 2000, the lack of overall export growth suggests that Uzbekistan’s exports to non-CIS countries dropped sharply last year. These trends reflect Uzbekistan’s growing isolation from the international economy.
The exaggeration of output growth, the reported declines in exports and imports, the collapse of automobile production, and the sharp fall in automobile purchases suggest that Uzbekistan’s economic problems could be much more serious than has been let on to date. The corruption that caused the IMF to abandon Tashkent last month, as well as the shortages and black market associated with bureaucratic controls over the foreign exchange market and imports, are probably exacerbating these problems. Should the military offensive from the anti-government Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan materialize as expected this spring, the Karimov regime could find that its security problems are mirrored in a growing popular dissatisfaction with the economy.
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