The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says it is ready to resume lending in Uzbekistan after a decade-long pause.
EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti on March 17 said after a visit to the former Soviet republic that the lender has signed an agreement with the government to explore ways of “increasing its investment activity.”
“I am delighted that the EBRD is reengaging with Uzbekistan. These discussions have been highly fruitful and there is great interest on both sides in reinvigorating the relationship between the Bank and Uzbekistan,” the EBRD chief said.
No financial figures or potential projects were specified.
The bank's ties with Uzbekistan soured over human rights concerns and a lack of political and economic reforms during late President Islam Karimov's tenure.
The EBRD limited lending in Uzbekistan in 2004 and stopped operations there by 2007.
Chakrabarti, however, told AFP news agency during his visit that "I think there is a very strong commitment [to economic reform] from the top down."
"The president [Shavkat Mirziyaev] has made that clear with the new development strategy, which is about the state doing a lot less and the private sector doing a lot more," he said.
"We know everything is not perfect there, but I think it is important to note that there is a certain movement in the right direction, and encourage that movement," he added.
Mirziyaev, who came to power after Karimov's death was announced in September, is being closely watched for signs of an effort to decrease the country's isolation.
The EBRD was created to assist in rebuilding Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War and has since expanded its business to Central Asia and other areas. Its shareholders are 65 individual countries, the European Union, and the European Investment Bank.
It is Central Asia’s largest institutional investor with about 11.6 billion euros ($12.5 billion) committed to regional projects.
Since 1991, the EBRD has invested 894 million euros in Uzbekistan and has a remaining current portfolio of about 8 million euros.
Uzbekistan has Central Asia's second-largest economy after oil-rich Kazakhstan, but its economy is burdened by heavy regulations and corruption.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, AFP, and The Astana Times