Remarks at the American-Uzbek Business Forum

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
As Prepared for Delivery
Embassy of Uzbekistan
Washington, DC
July 7, 2010

Ambassador Nematov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investment, and Trade Tulyaganov, Mr. Harry Eustace, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to be here today to participate in today's American-Uzbek Business Forum.

When I met with Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Norov last December for the inaugural session of the U.S.-Uzbekistan annual bilateral consultations, one of the top priorities we identified was to promote increased trade and investment opportunities between our two countries.

Since these consultations, Uzbekistan has taken steps to show that it is open for business. Earlier this year, Uzbekistan hosted both the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank and the Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Working Group meeting in Tashkent. Both of these events helped to highlight Uzbekistan's potential, as well as that of Central Asia as a region, as a bridge between East and West, North and South, as it was during the times of the historic Silk Road.

The Obama Administration places a high priority on building partnerships in Central Asia that could contribute to Central Asia becoming a new crossroads for trade and ideas.

As Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, I have prioritized deeper bilateral engagement with each Central Asian country, and cooperation to advance peace, democracy, economic stability, and sustainable growth across the region, as well as to support the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan.

The private sector plays a critical role in our efforts to achieve these goals through trade and investment. As President Obama has stressed, we will do as much as we can to help U.S. companies expand their exports and business overseas. If there is sufficient private sector interest, I hope to include a trade and investment delegation as part of the next Annual Bilateral Consultations we plan to hold in Tashkent next winter.

Uzbekistan is already playing a vital role in international efforts to confront violent extremists in Afghanistan. It has provided much-needed electricity to Afghanistan, undertaken infrastructure projects in Afghanistan such as the rail line to Mazar-e-Sharif, and facilitated the transport of non-lethal supplies into Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network.

Indeed the Northern Distribution Network has the potential to improve transportation infrastructure and stimulate trade routes connecting Central Asia to the growing markets of South Asia, which would have a lasting economic benefit.

Uzbekistan weathered the global economic downturn well and continues to have solid economic growth. Uzbekistan grew by 9% in 2008 and 8.1% in 2009. Since Uzbekistan's independence, U.S. firms have invested roughly 500 million U.S. dollars in Uzbekistan. And I believe there is room for much more.

Today, you will have the opportunity to discuss business opportunities in diverse sectors including oil and gas, energy, the chemical industry, the automotive industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and construction materials.

As many of you know, Uzbekistan is a resource-rich country and has also shown great interest in developing its own technological capabilities in the manufacturing sector. With funding from the Asian Development Bank and others, major infrastructure projects such as a new East-West highway are in the works.

The Government of Uzbekistan has taken welcome initiatives such as the establishment of the Navoi Free Industrial Economic Zone, which will be discussed today. On the edge of the desert, this is an ambitious undertaking. But combined with the transcontinental air cargo hub managed by Korean Air at Navoi Airport, which is already making money, this project embodies the vision of new linkages harnessing Central Asia’s geographic location, modern technology and market potential.

Our Ambassador in Uzbekistan not long ago took our Ambassador to South Korea on a joint visit to Navoi where they were briefed on potential partnerships involving U.S., Korean and Uzbek business interests. Both came away impressed. Today's forum highlights the commitment by the U.S. and Uzbekistan to promote stronger business ties and I look forward to a successful outcome.