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Kazakhstan: Nazarbaev Seeks Greater Business Ties With Britain

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, London, on November 21 (AFP) LONDON, November 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- After meeting Queen Elizabeth II and holding political talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 21, Kazakh President Nazarbaev continued his official visit to Britain today firmly focused on business.

Nazarbaev opened the day's proceedings at the London Stock Exchange in the City of London, the financial hub of the city. He then went to the Mansion House -- the offices of the Lord Mayor of London -- where he was welcomed at one of London's most important historical palaces by Lord Mayor John Stuttard.

"Kazakhstan can become an alternative supply for Russia to Europe. It is already [an alternative] today for crude oil. Today the crude oil of Kazakhstan finds its way to the ports of the Mediterranean and to Rotterdam."

Pomp For The President

"Mr. President, your excellencies, fellow aldermen, my lords, ladies and gentlemen. It's a great pleasure to welcome you all here at the Mansion House, my official residence as Lord Mayor. Mr. President, we're very pleased to have the opportunity to host a conference here as part of your official visit to the United Kingdom. We look forward to hearing you speak, and we have an exciting line-up of other influential speakers this morning, who'll help increase our knowledge about Kazakhstan, an important partner of the City of London."

Stuttard was referring to a business seminar called "Kazakhstan -- Way Forward." The seminar was Nazarbaev's chance to use his keynote speech to tell some 300 top British representatives of business and finance that his country is ready for more business.

Nazarbaev mapped his country achievements over the past 15 years, stressing, among other things, that its per capita gross domestic product will soon reach $6,000 -- a significant tenfold increase over that period. He reminded the audience that Britain already is Kazakhstan's third-largest investor, with some 128 British companies investing in the Central Asian country.

Come East

Nazarbaev also stressed that Kazakhstan is a multinational and multireligious country, and invited British businesses and investors to come and see the opportunities available there.

"Kazakhstan is no longer part of the Soviet Union, not part of Russia, and there is no need to look at it as if it were...." Nazarbaev said. "As you see, Kazakhstan is a scene of liberal politics, liberal economics, and we wish that all the countries of the region would follow our example, walk in our footsteps in that we have created better conditions for our people than our neighbors."

Among the other speakers at the seminar were several representatives of Kazakhstan's business community who accompanied Nazarbaev to London, including companies such as the Kazyna Fund, Samruk State Holdings, and RFCA, as well as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and hundreds of officials from British companies.

Many of those at the seminar said they are satisfied with the improvements in Kazakhstan's business environment, including the legal framework. Martin Ferstl is the country chairman of Shell Oil International in Kazakhstan. He said Shell has invested some $3 billion in the country since 1993, most of it in the giant Kashagan oil field.

Improving Business Culture?

"Over the last 10 years the quality of the legal and regulatory framework in Kazakhstan has improved enormously, such that today we deal with a set of laws that are clear, unambiguous, and implementable in the context of long-term, large-scale investment projects in Kazakhstan," he said. "The regulations are being worked heavily upon, their implementation is progressing, and also the capacity and capability of the government and authorities in Kazakhstan has improved."

Executives of other companies tend to agree. Dr. David Robson is the director of Thetys Petroleum, which has been developing a gas field close to the Aral Sea. He says that there could be a bit less bureaucracy, but is generally satisfied.

"It's quite a bureaucratic structure, but there is nothing wrong with that," Robson said. "It just means that you've got to follow the steps. Providing you follow steps properly, then it works very, very efficiently, so I am very satisfied working there."

Some British and European experts say Kazakhstan could replace Russia as the major energy supplier if Moscow continues its policy of monopolizing supplies and pipeline networks.

"Kazakhstan can become an alternative supply for Russia to Europe," Ferstl said. "It is already [an alternative] today for crude oil. Today the crude oil of Kazakhstan finds its way to the ports of the Mediterranean and to Rotterdam."

Ferstl explains that Kazakh oil already flows to China through a new pipeline, as well as to Georgia and Russia. A member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Kazakhstan's strategic position between Europe and Asia will allow it to diversify away from oil and gas and assume an even more important role as an economic power, he said. Ferstl added that in the long-term, Kazakhstan's natural gas supply to Europe could serve as an alternative to gas being supplied by Russia.

Kazakh Firms At LSE

Sauat Mynbaev, the acting chairman of Kazakhstan's Samruk State Holding company, also spoke at the seminar. He said the London seminar and Nazarbaev's visit highlight the fact there are many opportunities for British and other foreign firms in Kazakhstan.

"The reason for our visit to the London Stock Exchange (LSE) today is the introduction of the shares of four companies here," Mynbaev said. One of them is KazakhMys, which is a part of Samruk, the Research and Production Branch of KazMunayGaz. Shares in Kazkommertsbank have been introduced here recently as well. In the near future shares of other companies owned by Samruk may be introduced here. Preparations for that might take some time, but we have started the process. That is why it is very important for us to exchange views and ideas to make it easier to proceed in that direction. We might even sign preliminary agreements concerning these projects."

President Nazarbaev left the seminar to visit another important London business institution, the London Metal Exchange. It is there that metals are traded on a global scale.

Experts say the success of Nazarbaev's trip to London will only be known later, if there is an increase in the flow of business and trade between the two countries. John Taylor of BAE Systems, which is working with the Kazakh government to establish a new airline, Air Astana. Taylor thinks Kazakhstan's prospects are quite good.

"I think the seminar will increase significantly the population that are aware of the opportunities, and I think Kazakhstan is about to explode in terms of the people showing interest and wanting to invest," he said.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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