European partners highly appreciate and support the profound socio-economic reforms undertaken on the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, as well as Uzbekistan’s new regional policy, which has made it possible to solve within a short period of time the most difficult problems of joint use of water resources, delimitation and demarcation of state borders and, in general, change the political atmosphere towards strengthening trust and cooperation in Central Asia.
This was discussed during the recent visits and meetings at the highest and high levels, in particular, during the visit of the former President of the European Council Donald Tusk to Uzbekistan in May 2019, the telephone conversation between the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and the President of the European Council Charles Michel, the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov to Brussels in July 2022, meetings between the Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov and EU High Representative Josep-Borrell in September 2022.
The European Union is one of Uzbekistan’s important foreign policy and economic partners. The parties interact within the framework of the updated in 2019 EU Strategy for Central Asia, which, in fact, became a new “road map” for deepening interregional cooperation in the medium term.
An important feature of the updated Strategy is that it is based on three key priorities:
1) enhancing the political-economic and social sustainability of Central Asian countries through support for reforms, security, environmental protection, rule of law, and democratization;
2) ensuring prosperity of the countries of the region through economic development, education, scientific research, and regional cooperation;
3) strengthening institutional mechanisms for cooperation between the EU and the countries of the region.
Currently, active work is underway to organize the visit of President of the European Council Charles Michel to Uzbekistan, which is designed to broaden the prospects of interaction and bring Uzbek-European relations to a qualitatively new level.
As an important stage in economic cooperation between the parties was the granting for Uzbekistan the status of a beneficiary country of the General System of Preferences “GSP+” on April 10, 2021. This contributed to a noticeable increase in the volume of Uzbek exports to the EU, thanks to unilateral tariff preferences for the export of Uzbek goods to the European market. The number of commodity items that can be duty-free exported to the EU countries increased to 6200 items. The EU monitoring mission on “GSP+” visited Uzbekistan and prepared positive assessments on Uzbekistan In March 2022.
As a result, in the first six months of this year trade turnover between Uzbekistan and EU countries increased by 22%, while exports from Uzbekistan grew by 86%. Among the categories of goods that showed the greatest growth are products of chemical industry (six-fold growth), textiles (90% growth) and food products (65% growth).
The EU supports Uzbekistan’s accession to the World Trade Organization. The EU has positively assessed the implementation of the
5 million EUR project “Assistance to Uzbekistan in Accession Process to the WTO” implemented by the International Trade Centre in cooperation with the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan.
An important partner of Uzbekistan is the European Investment Bank (EIB) headquartered in Luxembourg. The EIB approved a concessional loan of €100 million for the implementation of an urban heating project in Nukus in February 2020. Besides, a loan project worth $100 million was approved by Bank to support small and medium-sized businesses for increasing economic activity and employment. Projects on waste management, energy efficiency increase and financial support of the Multi-Partner Trust Fund on Human Security for Aral region worth 300 mln euros are being developed by the EIB. By the way, the EU has also allocated 5.2 million euros for the Multi-partner Trust Fund in 2020.
This year, negotiations on the draft of Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between Uzbekistan and the EU, initialled on July 6 this year in Brussels, have been successfully completed.
Negotiations on the draft of PCA were launched in February 2019 and had been completed at the end of June 2022. During this period, 10 rounds of negotiations and more than 150 meetings were held, both at the level of experts, chief negotiators, and members of the government.
The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which has been in force since 1999, mainly contains provisions on political dialogue, cooperation in the areas of democracy, human rights, promotion of cultural ties, financial and technical cooperation, investment, trade in goods and services, as well as intellectual property protection.
It is expected that EPCA will contribute to the further integration of Uzbekistan into the multilateral trading system, strengthen the mechanisms of market economy, increase the confidence and interest of foreign investors and the business community to the country, and open new opportunities for domestic producers for trade cooperation with partners from EU countries. In other words, the document is designed to bring relations between Uzbekistan and the EU to a new level.
As part of the promotion of Uzbekistan’s interests among the political-forming circles, the EU-Uzbekistan Friendship Group, chaired by MEP
R. Czarnecki (Poland), has been functioning in the European Parliament since 2020.
Further development of bilateral and multilateral relations between Uzbekistan and the EU had been discussed during the visit of Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov to Brussels on September 5-6, 2022. In particular, agreements were reached on holding an «EU-CA» ministerial meeting in November this year. In addition, on the initiative of Uzbekistan, the first EU-Central Asia conference on connectivity will be held in Samarkand on 18 November this year. At present, the issue of holding the EU-CA Tourism Forum in Uzbekistan in 2023 is also being worked out.