Remarks at the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
August 17, 2012

Deputy Prime Minister Azimov, Minister Ganiev, Minister Kamilov, Chairman of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce Carolyn Lamm, members of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce in America, business delegation, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my gratitude to the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce for organizing this business delegation and for sponsoring this business forum together with the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, Investment, and Trade.

Yesterday Foreign Minister Kamilov and I chaired a very productive session of our Third Annual Bilateral Consultations. We were very honored to have Deputy Prime Minister Azimov and Minister Ganiev lead the economic dimension aspects of our talks. I conveyed Secretary Clinton’s greetings and noted that this year the United States and Uzbekistan marked 20 years of diplomatic relations. This last year has seen a number of high-level visits and interactions between the United States and Uzbekistan, including visits by Secretary Clinton, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and a seven-member Congressional delegation lead by Representative Danny Burton. One topic that came up at all of their meetings is our agreement to try to increase the level of bilateral trade and investment.

Uzbekistan has great potential for further economic development, including greater U.S. investment. The number of representatives of world-class American companies here today shows the high level of interest in doing business here in Uzbekistan. Many of these companies have long, prosperous commercial relationships with Uzbekistan. Case New Holland has been manufacturing agricultural equipment in Tashkent for 15 years. NUKEM has been operating in the country for 20 years. Boeing has been supplying aircraft and technical training to Uzbekistan Airways since 1995, and delivery of its 787 Dreamliner in 2016 will make possible direct flights between Uzbekistan and the United States.

I’m pleased to hear that Lockheed Martin and the Government are announcing agreement to move forward on air traffic management program negotiations.

In addition to investing in Uzbekistan, U.S. companies strive to be responsible members of the community. General Motors has set especially high standards with its environmental, social, and labor practices. Last year, GM Uzbekistan was a finalist for the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, ranking it among the best in the world in terms of corporate social responsibility.

Economic development of the entire Central Asia region is an important U.S. priority. The international community recognizes this importance as organizations like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank fund projects to revitalize the trade routes of the Silk Road. USAID is implementing its Regional Economic Cooperation program to boost trade and cooperation. Uzbekistan, as the center of Central Asia, has a vital role to play in that development and would benefit greatly from increased regional trade and investment. Uzbekistan already is a key part of economic development in Afghanistan, providing electricity to Kabul and supporting much-needed infrastructure projects like the rail line from Hairaton to Mazar-e-Sharif.

That said, more work needs to be done for American- Uzbek investment and trade to reach its full potential. We discussed several of these important issues yesterday during the Economic Dimension session of our Annual Bilateral Consultations. I’m pleased the Uzbek government has committed to continuing to work with us to tackle some of the challenges that I’ll discuss in a minute. The good news is that it is in the interest of each of us to expand trade, and we see a bright future for the people of both our countries as we increase cooperation.

The U.S. strongly supports Uzbekistan’s efforts to promote reforms that will increase economic growth. And the Deputy Prime Minister has outlined many of the important reforms that are going to take place. Representatives from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and other trade agencies are here today to explore opportunities. The United States has a strong track record assisting private investment and trade in Uzbekistan through the Export-Import Bank, USAID, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

We are looking for creative ways to improve the investment environment as well. Under the framework of our bilateral Science and Technology Agreement, for example, cooperation in research has helped Uzbekistan increase the value of its agricultural exports. We are working to expand this cooperation and promote innovation in all sectors of the economy.

In my position as Assistant Secretary, I regularly meet with U.S. investors looking for opportunities in the region, and I hear a consistent message that Uzbekistan has great potential as an investment destination; however, to reach its full economic potential, it should address persistent challenges in the business and investment climate.

We discussed yesterday that delays in currency conversion prevent manufacturers from importing the supplies they need to produce their finished goods, and the problem can be compounded by complex and uncertain customs procedures. Businesses face these issues while navigating a somewhat opaque regulatory environment.

Increased dialogue between the state, private businesses, and foreign investors would be a first step towards identifying challenges and developing and enacting reforms that allow entrepreneurs to succeed while still meeting the needs of the government. Our friends in the government of Uzbekistan welcome such a dialogue. Uzbekistan must also continue reforms to strengthen the rule of law, including IPR protection, and reduce corruption so that all businesses can operate under one transparent set of rules. As Secretary Clinton has said about the situation in Cambodia, fair labor standards everywhere can also spur economic growth and widen the circle of prosperity.

I am confident that progress on these issues will lead to tangible results through greater U.S. investment and increased bilateral trade. The United States will continue to work closely with the government of Uzbekistan and the business communities on each side to support Uzbekistan in establishing itself as a cornerstone of economic development throughout this region. We are also encouraged to see organizations like AUCC, the American Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uzbekistan engaging with the government and private businesses on economic issues. Each participant brings a unique, valuable point of view to the conversation, and I hope we can all increase our cooperation in the future.

Events such as today’s Business Forum provide a great opportunity to begin a conversation on how to move our economic relationship forward. So again, I want to express my deep thanks to our host today, for all their efforts to organize this forum. I want to wish all of you success in your deliberations and pledge to you that the U.S. Government will remain a very strong backer of all of your efforts to increase trade and investment between the United States and Uzbekistan. Thank you very much.