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Russian Carmakers Move To Restrict Uzbek Car Imports

Uz-Daewoo cars are produced by GM Uzbekistan are exported to Russia and other CIS countries.
Uz-Daewoo cars are produced by GM Uzbekistan are exported to Russia and other CIS countries.
TASHKENT -- An Uzbek car industry official says car exports to Russia are continuing normally despite Russian carmakers’ attempts to restrict them, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Interfax reported on November 18 that the three largest Russian carmakers -- AvtoVAZ, GAZ, and Sollers -- wrote a letter calling on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to put restrictions on the sale of GM cars from Uzbekistan.

But Ilmira Shihvatulina, a spokeswoman for the state Uzavtosanoat joint stock company, told RFE/RL that there has been no reduction in the country's exports. She said that on the contrary, GM Uzbekistan has increased its car production this year by 4 percent and, as a result, exports have also increased.

The letter reportedly states that the Russian government should retaliate against the Uzbek government's protective measures for GM Uzbekistan cars, two of which -- the Daewoo Matiz and Nexia -- are among the best-selling models in Russia.

The letter claims that Russian car dealers in Uzbekistan are intentionally prevented from converting the Uzbek som into rubles or other currencies needed to pay Russian carmakers; loan programs for owners of foreign-made cars are prohibited; and imported cars are subject to an additional highway-user tax.

The Russian carmakers proposed linking the ability to exchange currencies for cars imported from Uzbekistan to currency conversion availability for Russian-made vehicles exported to Uzbekistan.

It also suggested placing additional taxes on Uzbek cars imported to Russia.

A Sollers official told RFE/RL that the company director, Vadim Shvetsov, was asked to sign the letter in the presence of the directors of other carmakers.

She said the letter was initiated and written by AvtoVAZ officials. AvtoVAZ and GAZ refused to comment on the issue when contacted by RFE/RL.

Kremlin Connection?

Arkady Dubnov, a Central Asian analyst for the Moscow daily "Vremya Novostei," told RFE/RL that the carmakers’ refusal to officially comment on the letter suggests that it could have been prompted by the Kremlin.

He said if the Russian government was behind the letter, it could be seen as a reaction to the Uzbek government's policy to politically and economically distance itself from Russia.

Dubnov referred to a recent decision by Uzbek authorities in Tashkent to dismantle a Soviet military monument and to demolish a Russian Orthodox Church that was built in 1898.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Dokuchayev, economics editor of the Russian magazine "The New Times," told RFE/RL that he does not believe there is a hidden political agenda behind the letter.

Dokuchayev said he thinks the Russian government has simply introduced a new political policy to support its largest carmakers.

He added that it is a good time for Russian car manufacturers to seek additional restrictions for Uzbek car imports. But Dokuchayev said it is too early to comment on the motives behind the issue until seeing how the Kremlin reacts to the letter.

GM Uzbekistan currently builds several Chevrolet and GM Daewoo vehicles, including the Captiva, Epica, Lacetti, Nexia, Matiz, and Damas models, at a plant in Asaka, a town in the eastern province of Andijon.

Russia is the largest buyer of GM Uzbekistan cars, which are also exported to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Georgia.

In March, AvtoVAZ's then-President Boris Aleshin sent a similar letter addressed to Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Klepach complaining about Uzbek car imports.

It said delays at banks in converting Uzbek soms into other currencies had prevented importers of Russian cars from paying AvtoVAZ and other carmakers and resulted in huge delays in bringing AutoVAZ cars to Uzbekistan.