Kazakhstan presents compelling investment opportunities because of its strategic role in opening trade between East and West, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Takehiko Nakao told delegates at the May 2-5 47th annual meeting of the ADB's Board of Governors here.
"We at ADB are excited to be holding this event in Kazakhstan at a time when the country is experiencing a healthy growth spurt. Our recently released Asian Development Outlook projects 6 percent growth for Kazakhstan this year - the same rate as in 2013 - rising to 6.4 percent in 2015. As this morning's International Investment Conference showed, Kazakhstan presents a wealth of opportunities, and these will continue to grow in years to come," Nakao told media here on Friday.
"Kazakhstan is also an important member of the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme. As such, it plays a vital role in opening trade between East and West. In fact, the theme of the Annual Meeting is 'The Silk Road: Connecting Asia with the Changing World.' Given its strategic location and involvement in CAREC, Kazakhstan has a central role in making this vision a reality. We look forward to a continued productive partnership with Kazakhstan to support its ongoing development," he added.
During the first conference session at the Palace of Independence, Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and New Technologies Aset Issekeshev told the 3,000 local and international delegates, government ministers, media and representatives of civil society that Kazakhstan's push to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the country's 20-year relationship with the ADB made Astana the ideal city for the board's annual meeting.
He pointed to the pending privatisation plan of dozens of state-owned enterprises recently approved by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the slated launch of 10 Special Economic Zones and the massive agricultural developments underway as the key factors underpinning Kazakhstan's investment opportunities.
He added that the country's strategic location at the heart of Eurasia and its abundant natural resources made it an unprecedented investment destination, made even more powerful by the ongoing integration between neighbouring states.
Nakao explained that the ADB's Annual Meeting was an opportunity for the bank's governors and development partners to discuss the challenges facing the Asia and Pacific region and how the ADB can best respond.
"In my first year as president, we have studied these challenges extensively through our review of ADB's long-term strategy, Strategy 2020.
This mid-term review shows that Asia's dramatic transformation continues as poverty declines and more countries achieve middle income status," Nakao said, noting that Kazakhstan had already achieved high middle income status, a major achievement in the space of less than two decades.
"But with the region's successes come new challenges. They include widening inequalities, rapid urbanisation, persistent environmental pressures and increasing demands for employment growth and social protection. The region's massive infrastructure deficit persists, and must be met with equally massive investments. And despite major declines in absolute poverty, a large proportion of people still live very close to its edge," Nakao observed.
He added, "Kazakhstan is among the most attractive investment destinations in the CIS," and thanked President Nazarbayev and his government for hosting the landmark ADB event.
Economy and Budget Planning Minister Yerbolat Dossayev said Kazakhstan would become even more attractive to investors once "one stop shop" investment vehicles were in place and 90-day visas became available for current and potential investors.
He noted that in the 20 years of association with the ADB, Kazakhstan's economy had grown 20 times over, a rare phenomenon. Ten-year tax exemptions and other attractive terms were being used to attract foreign investors.
Other speakers at the "Invest in Kazakhstan" investment conference on May 2 spoke of the country's Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, which aims to achieve top-30 status among world economies following the vision of President Nazarbayev.
Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Shamshad Akhtar said "paving the New Silk Road" involved boosting investment in Kazakhstan and its neighbours in Central Asia and it was imperative that this led to "the sustainable future we all want" for the region and beyond.
She also said Kazakhstan had become a "role model for landlocked countries through its 360 degree connectivity and macroeconomic diversification coupled with social transformation."
However, Akhtar warned that Kazakhstan still lagged behind many other developing countries in terms of investment in research and development, urging the government to step up capital deployed to this sphere.
Chairman of the Board of Baiterek National Holding Kuandyk Bishimbayev told the conference the Kazakh economy urgently needed additional investment totalling up to USD 50 billion and said, "Our main task at Baiterek National Holding is to attract large-scale foreign direct investment."
Kuandyk said the "green field" investment fund was "up and running this year" and would have a profound effect on regional investment from this year on.
Toyota Tsusho Corporation Kazakhstan head Takuya Ichihashi told delegates that his company, which manufacturers and imports Toyota brand vehicles and equipment, was seeking major new investment in Kazakhstan to begin producing "completely knocked down" or CKD cars in Kazakhstan for the local and export market.
This new investment in assembling cars using imported parts would require millions of dollars and would also involve the creation of hundreds of new jobs for skilled Kazakh citizens. He added he was thrilled at how quickly Kazakh engineers learned their trade during training by Toyota.
Kazakhstan Minister of Environment and Water Resources Nurlan Kapparov said investment in "Green Technology" was imperative for the country's future sustainable growth and would require upwards of $40 billion in local and foreign investment. The creation of 40 waste management plants was just one item on the green agenda.
Concluding the panel presentation, Minister of Transport and Communications Zhenis Kassymbek said infrastructure investment in road, rail, air and sea port facilities, the acquisition of new ships and passenger aircraft and the agreements with SWISS Port to develop Astana airport and with Singapore's Changi Airport to develop the Almaty Aviation Hub were highlights of the investment programme, which would benefit not only Kazakhstan but the entire CAREC region.