FT-EBRD Central Asia Investment Forum discussed reform, investment

By Svitlana  Pyrkalo
@pyrkalo

FT-EBRD Central Asia Investment Forum discussed reform, investment

Over 300 investors from Turkey, Europe, the Gulf, Central Asia and other countries gathered in Istanbul to discuss ideas and opportunities

The FT-EBRD Central Asia Investment Forum: Forging Relationships for Growth has been held in Istanbul today. Speaking to the media just before the conference, EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti reaffirmed the Bank’s commitment to Turkey: “The EBRD will not be deterred from investing in Turkey by the Ankara bombing.” In comparison with many countries, “Turkey is an oasis of stability, despite the latest attack, and safe for investors,” he added.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek also referred to yesterday's bombing in Ankara, saying that whether such events happened in Paris or Ankara the only response was to be strong. “Turkey's economic fundamentals are strong and not affected by events such as the bombing,” he added.

The forum discussed the practicalities of doing business in Central Asia, the opportunities for international investors in the region and how to navigate the complexities of operating there. Speakers included Burak Başarır, CEO of Coca-Cola İçecek; Ambassador Ayşe Sinirlioğlu, Deputy Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Wang Dan, Executive Vice President of China’s Silk Road Fund.

High-level government representatives from Central Asia included Rakhim Oshkabaev, Deputy Minister for Investments and Development, Republic of Kazakhstan; Aidai Kurmanova, State Secretary of the Ministry of Economy, Kyrgyz Republic; Bayanjargal Byambasaikhan, CEO, Erdenes Mongol LLC; Jamoliddin Nuraliev, First Deputy Chairman, National Bank of Tajikistan; and Muratniyaz Berdiev, Deputy Chairman, Central Bank of Turkmenistan.

Deputy Prime Minister Şimşek and EBRD President Chakrabarti both underlined the importance of reform and further investment in Central Asia.

EBRD President Chakrabarti stressed that Central Asia is a very important region for the EBRD, and reminded the audience of the Bank's record investment in 2015 – €1.4 billion, bringing total EBRD investment in the region to €10 billion. He said that reforms are important to boost investment, but also stressed the need for investors to know more about the region and its opportunities.

Sir Suma said: “The region can be challenging, with lack of access to financing and unstable electricity supply among the chief obstacles to doing business. But it is also full of great promise. Central Asia’s massive investment needs can be turned into big opportunities.”

He also made the first official announcement about the EBRD's future cooperation with the China-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, whose inauguration he attended last month. Sir Suma said that the EBRD and AIIB are already in early stages of talks about co-financing road projects in Central Asia.

Deputy Prime Minister Şimşek commented that Turkey was one of the most important investors in Central Asia, a region with which it has strong economic and cultural links. “Central Asia's success is our success because we think of them as our brothers,” he said. Turkey is prepared to provide grant financing to support reforms and for technical cooperation. Deep reforms could help turn challenges into opportunities in Central Asia, he said, and added that Turkey was also continuing to reform and improve its business environment.

Mr Şimşek said: “Deep historic and cultural ties exist between Turkey and Central Asia. In Turkey we stand ready to provide all support that we can for the development of these countries together with the EBRD. We are ready to continue to provide administrative support to those countries.”

He also called for a larger role of the private sector in Central Asia and globally, presenting Turkey as an example. “Turkey made use of the dynamism of the private sector, and we used PPPs to increase investments. The private sector has a lot of resources. To improve the business environment we need to improve investment conditions. Even Turkey needs to engage in further reform – and we are actually engaged in serious reform to further improve the investment climate.”

The first panel focused on the Central Asian investment climate and opportunities for investors in the region. Panellists looked at new economic links, discussed currency devaluations, mentioned new realities in countries which are now members of the Eurasian Economic Union, and discussed countries' investment strategies.

Other discussion panels explored the end of the commodity super-cycle, diversification opportunities, and building up the region’s infrastructure in the light of new Silk Road regional programmes and improved links with Russia, China and Europe.

The discussions saw a frank exchange of views about how to tackle the challenges the region is facing today. Contributions showed many similarities but also differences between the individual countries. All participants acknowledged the important role the EBRD plays in private sector development and in policy dialogue contributing to the reform agendas of the governments of the region.

Sir Suma said that the conference, which attracted strong interest from investors and experts, could become a regular EBRD event for Central Asia.