Tajikistan invited to Eurasian Economic Union
Russia proposed Tajikistan to consider the possibility of obtaining observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The proposal was made during the meeting of Tajikistan-Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation. Dushanbe put forward a counter proposal - to expand the rights of labor migrants.
Russia links the migration policy towards Tajikistan with the accession of the republic to the EEU. Citizens of the EEU member countries have the right to work in Russia on a par with Russian citizens. They are also entitled to pensions and health insurance from the host state. Russia has persuaded Tajikistan to join the integration association since 2014, promising, if not the world, then many benefits. Dushanbe quietly resists, citing the need to study the experience of Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. According to the Tajik expert Khursand Khurramov, this indicates a high level of skepticism of the country's leadership towards the EEU, which, on the one hand, does not want to spoil relations with Moscow and can afford it; on the other hand, cherishes its multi-vector policy, which brings certain financial and economic preferences.
Moscow took another step, softening its demand and offering Tajikistan a new status - an observer status. "We proposed Tajikistan to seriously look at obtaining EEU observer status on the backdrop of the bilateral agenda," First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters. According to him, the status status does not entail membership in the Union, does not bear any political aspect. The purpose of the proposal is purely pragmatic - promoting trade turnover between countries, and linking the economies of the two countries. "We ask the Tajik side to look carefully at this issue because issues of phytosanitary control, veterinary control, technical regulation and standards – all this leads to more free movement of commodities. And for us this site is already the EEU," Igor Shuvalov said. The official added that Russia is interested in joint development with the CIS member nations.
Doctor of Economic Sciences Khodja Muhammad Umarov told Vestnik Kavkaza that the bulk of the Tajik population, about 90%, supports Tajikistan in becoming a full member of the EEU. "However, certain circles resist. They insist that it is necessary to make calculations, see how beneficial membership in this organization might be, how much economic gains can exceed the volume of losses. Here lie the interests of a narrow circle of people," the Tajik economist said. According to him, after Tajikistan joins the EEU, Tajik business will not be able to compete with Russian business on the territory of the republic, many Tajik companies will go bankrupt. "There are such fears. And this is possible. Normal competition will lead to the prosperity of the national business in a few years. The main thing is that Tajikistan needs to create conditions necessary for business. Today, Tajikistan has a very low investment attractiveness. It is difficult to work in Tajikistan," Umarov noted.
It should be noted that Dushanbe is not independent in its choice. It has to act with regard to Beijing and Washington. China is Tajikistan's main investor with $1.6 billion out of a total of $3.2 billion and a creditor of $1.2 billion. China's share in the economies of Central Asian countries is the highest in Tajikistan. The interaction format proposed by Beijing - the Silk Road Economic Belt within the framework of the One Belt, One Road project, with simultaneous financing in highly costly and complex projects (infrastructure, mining) - complicates Dushanbe's unambiguous strategic choice in favor of the EEU.
In order to maintain balance, Tajikistan seeks to maintain at least the existing level of relations with the EU and the United States. Washington has recently actively cooperated with Dushanbe in the field of security and strengthening of the Tajik-Afghan border. Not so long ago, representatives of the largest US companies visited Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where they studied the investment opportunities of the countries of Central Asia and the possibility of entering the Eurasian market, and the Russian market - through it.
According to the Tajik expert, Doctor of Law Shokir Hakimov, Russia has enough leverage to persuade the political leadership of Tajikistan to join the integration union, despite the fact that China and some other players are trying to influence Dushanbe for the opposite purpose. "Recently, the flow of foreign grants and loans, both European and Chinese, has increased noticeably. They are not disclosed, as are likely to be levers of influence on the republic, so that Tajikistan refrains from integration," Khakimov said.