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Kazakhstan: Closer Ties With Eastern Europe Explored

Prague, 30 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- This month saw Kazakhstan exploring closer ties with Eastern Europe.

Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Akejan Kajegeldin visited Hungary and the Czech Republic in the first part of October. And, at the same time, a delegation of the Kazakh Parliament's Lower House (Majilis), led by Chairman Marat Ospanov, visited Bulgaria.

Hungarian, Czech and Bulgarian media noted the visits. Kazakh media provided extensive coverage.

Of 17 Kazakhstan-Hungary agreements signed during the visit, six dealt with trade and economical cooperation.

During the last several years, the scale of bilateral trade diminished. In 1994, bilateral trade totaled about $80 million, with Almaty enjoying a large trade surplus. But, last year, those data changed significantly. Total bilateral trade volume shrank to about $30 million, and the trade surplus shifted dramatically in Hungary's favor.

Hungary exports mainly corn, furniture and food to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan's exports are mainly phosphorus, coal, mineral fertilizers, nitrates, phosphates and containers for chemicals.

Nearly 20 Kazakh-Hungarian joint ventures are registered in Almaty, with plans to focus on industrial production, construction and agriculture. But only five of those joint ventures are actually functioning currently and one, Trading Complex, has achieved some significant results in corn production.

Obstacles remain. One is Almaty's debts to Budapest for work done at the Tengiz oil complex during the Soviet era. Hungarian specialists constructed a number of facilities at the Tengiz oil field, under an agreement among Moscow, Budapest and Prague. After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., debt responsibility remains unresolved.

Trade and economical relations between Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic are also complicated. In 1993, the total trade turnover was nearly $50 million. But, after nearly doubling in 1994, the turnover fell back to the 1993 level.

Thirty Czech-Kazakh joint ventures have been registered in Almaty, but only 12 of them are functioning currently.

Bulgaria -- in the midst of a grain-shortage crisis -- is interested mainly in wheat from Kazakhstan, one of the world's largest wheat growers. Talks in Sofia also focused on Bulgaria's vision of a transportation corridor linking Europe with Asia.

Experts in Kazakhstan say that, after seeking partnership with Western, Asian and Mideast countries, this month's trade visits indicate Almaty's desire to revive relations with traditional trade partners in Eastern Europe.