Note of Comment on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s Participation to the Online Session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council

Uzbekistan has officially obtained observer status at the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) at the Online Session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. Earlier this year, the Uzbek Senate had voted by a majority to approve the country’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union with observer status.

The EAEU was established by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2015 and has since grown to include Armenia, Kyrgyzstan as full members and Cuba, Moldova and Uzbekistan as observers. The bloc aims to ensure free flow of goods, services, capital and labour within its borders, and greater harmonization of legislation between the members.

Since President Mirziyoyev came to office in 2016, bilateral trade volumes between Uzbekistan and other EAEU members has been firmly on the rise. Eventual full membership to the EAEU could help further dismantle trade barriers, expand industrial cooperation and widen opportunities for Uzbek companies to participate in value and supply chains across the EAEU space. This would fit Uzbek plans to reinforce the export-oriented sectors of the national economy. Numerous domestic studies carried out in Uzbekistan have so far shown the benefits of EAEU membership outweighing the cons for the core sectors of the Uzbek economy.

In addition, the EAEU has signed and is working to-wards a number of preferential free trade agreements with many countries such as Serbia, Israel, Iran, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Cuba, Egypt and Thailand, which can lead to more opportunities for exporting Uzbek goods. As observer, however, Uzbekistan will not yet have access to expedited or preferential treatment of products or single tariff arrangements.

For the time being, Uzbekistan is adopting a gradual approach to the EAEU, only aiming for full membership by 2025 according to the Concept of Social and Economic Development of Uzbekistan 2030. In light of the geopolitical realities of this year, with three of the EAEU members undergoing periods of instability (post-election instability in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Armenia’s conflict with Azerbaijan), a cautious approach is indeed desirable.

In parallel to engagement with the EAEU, Uzbekistan is pursuing a proactive and engaging policy vis-à-vis major regional integrationist institutions and initiatives such as also the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Belt and Road Initiative, and bilateral initiatives such as an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU and a Preferential Trade Agreement with India. Uzbekistan has actively pushing for a more economic-centred agenda in the regional organisations to which it is a member – even in those organisations which previously were characterised by a more security-oriented agenda. In his speech at the recent SCO heads of state summit, for example, President Mirziyoyev focused on economic projects and cooperation among the SCO member countries, proposing to eliminate trade barriers, simplify customs procedures, and boost investment.

This economic-centred focus was also on display at President Mirziyoyev’s speech at the Online Session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council where he emphasised trade, transportation and labour mobility as key priorities.

Alberto Turkstra, Project Manager, Diplomatic World Institute