The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, paid a rare official visit to Belgium on Thursday and Friday (25-26 November) in an effort to present his country as a reliable partner to the EU and open the door to new opportunities.
The visit took place as the Central Asian country’s relations with the EU are at a high point and amid growing importance of the EU’s engagement with the region in the context of a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Unlike other countries in the EU’s neighbourhood, Kazakhstan only seeks to develop ties with the bloc in an effort to maintain a balance in relations on the global scene, including with its two other immediate neighbours – Russia and China.
Few details emerged from the EU side following Tokayev’s meeting with European Council President Charles Michel on Thursday. In a tweet, Michel said they had discussed post-COVID-19 recovery, human rights, regional cooperation, and Afghanistan.
Discussed strategic issues with President @TokayevKZ of Kazakhstan, including post-COVID-19 recovery, human rights, regional cooperation and Afghanistan.
The EU remains very supportive of Kazachstan’s reform and modernisation agenda. pic.twitter.com/zHJvcd2kUo
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) November 25, 2021
The website of the Kazakh president provided more detail, although it did not mention human rights. Kazakhstan has embarked on a process of gradual democratisation, but Western rights groups denounce the reforms as a façade.
Tokayev and Michel discussed the prospects of a strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the EU, with an emphasis on the effective implementation of the Agreement on Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation (EPCA), which entered into force just before the Covid pandemic broke out.
Kazakhstan is the first Central Asian country to agree an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU.
According to the Kazakh side, attention was paid to strengthening interaction in the political, trade, economic and investment spheres, as well as countering the coronavirus pandemic, including the mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination passports. Kazakhstan has developed QazVac, its own COVID-19 vaccine.
As reported by Tokayev’s office, the two sides reviewed the international and regional agenda, including the situation in Afghanistan and efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to this country.
The EU is the largest investor in Kazakhstan’s economy, with a total investment of $160 billion. In turn, Kazakhstan is the EU’s leading trade partner in the region, with bilateral trade worth $24 billion.
Water and energy initiative
Speaking about the situation with water resources in Central Asia, Tokayev told Michel about the need to create an International Water and Energy Consortium, whose activities would be aimed at balancing the interests of the states of the region in the field of hydropower, irrigation and environmental protection.
Along with this, President Tokayev touched upon the EU “green deal”, expressing Kazakhstan’s readiness to establish a partnership with the European Raw Materials Alliance and the European Battery Alliance by ensuring reliable and sustainable access to raw materials, as well as integrating his country into the battery value chain.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world in terms of resources, and has expressed interest in integrating the battery supply chain when it comes to extraction and processing of the materials.
Tokayev also met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and with representatives of European business – the chairman of the board of the Belgian company John Cockerill, Jean-Luc Maurange, and the president of the German group of companies Svevind Group, Wolfgang Kropp.
With Maurange, he is said to have discussed the prospects for implementing investment projects in Kazakhstan aimed at modernising the existing train engines and using renewable energy sources. In talks with Kropp, the implementation of the Hyrasia One project in the field of green hydrogen production in the Mangistau region was discussed.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]