Uzbekistan opens doors to Israeli companies
Commercial companies specialize in searching for and identifying new markets. This was certainly the case when the United Arab Emirates market opened up to Israeli companies in the wake of the Abraham Accords. Now, the next new market could be Uzbekistan – a strategic country in Central Asia that is opening its gates to Israelis and appears to hold considerable potential. Currently, the scope of commerce between Jerusalem and Tashkent is around $50 million, but it appears there's much to glean in terms of potential from this relatively small amount after Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the country's second president. Commerce with Uzbekistan became more modernized and new opportunities presented themselves, as the figures indicate, Israel Hayom writes.
In 2016 the scope of Uzbekistan's international trade was some $24.2 billion, but within a three-year span, that total swelled to $41.8 billion. Export accounted for $24.3 billion of that amount and import accounted for $17.5 billion. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic took a significant toll on global trade, and Uzbekistan's foreign trade totaled $36.3 billion – $15.1 billion in exports and $21.2 billion in imports. In other words, the country has done well despite the pandemic, as the scope of its commerce remained above its 2019 level.
Uzbekistan has also been able to mitigate inflation and approach economic stability. After the country's inflation rate stood at 18.8% in December 2017, as of December 2020 it was 11.1%. The expectation is for this figure to drop to 10% by the end of 2021 and continue dropping to 5.8% in 2023. The Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce also recognized the hidden potential in economic ties with Uzbekistan, and after establishing more than 15 offices – from Armenia eastward – it is now working to establish an Israel-Uzbekistan branch.
"The main field in which Israelis can contribute is agriculture," Ron Doron, Vice President of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, told Israel Hayom. "It's possible to advance the establishment of dairy farms and improve the dairy market there. There are opportunities to help modernize [the country] in terms of water management and irrigation, medical equipment, infrastructure development and smart cities," said Doron.
One interesting area that could seize a sizeable chunk of the trade between the countries is defense and security. The Taliban (banned in Russia) takeover in neighboring Afghanistan opens the door to cooperation that is motivated by more than one interest. As of now, officials in Tashkent have been reticent to acknowledge the threat publicly, but essentially every country in the area of Central Asia is troubled by the situation in Afghanistan.
None of this means, however, that trading with Uzbekistan will be without challenges. Turkey, for example, already has deep roots in the country. Ruhsar Pekcan, Ankara's trade minister up until April 2021, recently stated her intention to expand the scope of trade between the countries to $5 billion. The countries are currently expected to pass the $3 billion mark next year.
"Since the death of former president Islam Karimov [in 2016], the scope of commercial trade has almost doubled, as Switzerland, Russia, China, and Kazakhstan are significant trade partners of Tashkent," notes Oğul Tuna, a columnist for Turkish paper The Independent. "On the other hand, more than 10,000 Uzbek nationals reside in Istanbul. Even if they work in Turkey under tough conditions, their population size and contribution to the Turkish economy are increasing." Tuna added: "It's safe to assume that since the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan, Ankara and Tashkent are in constant communication, as both countries have already held joint military exercises in the past."
Uzbekistan's Ambassador to Israel Feruza Makhmudova told Israel Hayom that "both countries have tremendous potential for many commercial partnerships in the fields of entrepreneurship, agriculture, water resources management, science and education, start-up, technology and information, medicine and health. Therefore, I would like to invite the business community in Israel to be more active in the Uzbek markets. I'd also like to wish success to the Israel-Uzbekistan chamber of commerce in promoting business cooperation between the two countries."