MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) --Economic activity in Central Asia has been going on for several months now. Growing investment has stepped up the performance of the regional integration organizations. The events of October bear this out.
The meeting of economic ministers from the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on October 12 will open the way to a SCO economic summit in Moscow on October 26. Early October saw the integration of the Organization of Central Asian Cooperation (OCAC) into a similar Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC).
The list of members of these organizations clearly shows who takes part in regional integration, who plays the key role, and on whom the future of Central Asia depends. These are primarily Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. (Turkmenia with its isolationist trends is markedly absent.) They are all members of SCO, and now that Uzbekistan has joined EURASEC, they are all EURASEC members.
Russia is part of all integration structures in Central Asia. Importantly, China is a member of SCO. In effect, SCO is an instrument of involving China into the development of Central Asia.
Belarus is also a member of EURASEC. Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine have the status of observers. In SCO the same status is enjoyed by India, Pakistan, Iran, and Mongolia. At the summit on October 26 they will be represented at high, if not top level.
With few exceptions these countries are the most active in the region. Take investment, for example. The Russian Ministry of Trade and Economic Development has reported that Russia's investment in Central Asia went up by more than 144 times from 1999 to 2004. By comparison, its investment in the CIS merely doubled during the same period.
These figures show that five years ago Russian business invested very little in the region. Now Central Asia accounts for one third of all Russian investment in the CIS. The leaders are obviously Kazakhstan, a regional economic marvel, and Uzbekistan. This only confirms the general trend.
Incidentally, Uzbekistan is not suffering from international isolation. Quite the contrary, it is an investment Mecca. Not only Russia but also other countries are attracted to Uzbekistan where they have vast opportunities for producing cars, taking part in the services sphere, and participating in the program for the restoration of the water resources management, which the World Bank has assessed at 800 million dollars.
It was clear even on the eve of the SCO ministers' meeting in Bishkek what this organization is going to do in the next few months. While EURASEC is building a common regional market, SCO is creating the infrastructure for further cooperation and growing investment.
The SCO economic summit will discuss the ambitious projects of Central Asian development. These include the Kambaratin hydroelectric plants in Kyrgyzstan, pipelines from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Xinjiang, trans-Kazakhstan Railway, to name but a few. These projects already have investors - Russia and China. Politically, they should be promoted as concrete results of efforts by SCO and other organizations. People in the region should know what benefits are produced by integration.
One of the major problems of the region is to create a good investment climate. The SCO Business Council uniting businessmen of the region is supposed to start working next summer. Moscow's summit of October 26 will approve the required documents. The future Council will help harmonize business interests that quite often produce competition of investors and recipient nations in Central Asia.
Work is underway on inter-bank agreements that will provide an instrument for guaranteeing investment. This is important in a situation where the economic boom is generating rivalry between local business clans who are sometimes trying to oust the "aliens". This rivalry is a threat to all investors, and it is being dealt with by SCO, EURASEC, and every country in particular.
Key SCO humanitarian programs - cultural and educational - directly promote economic rapprochement. They will also be on the agenda of the October 26 summit. Only stable human relations can lead to new initiatives and new investment in one of this planet's most promising regions.