F: The UK is one of the top 5 investors in Kazakhstan. What opportunities do you see for expanding the inflow?
- We are proud of the role of investing in Kazakhstan. Since independence in 1991, UK investment in Kazakhstan totals more than £20 billion. Over 500 British companies are already based here, from oil and gas to agriculture, infrastructure to education, hi-tech to financial services. Our bilateral trade in 2016 was £3.5 billion.
Many investors operate in the extractive industries - oil and gas, mining, and we think this has enormous potential for increased investments in those areas. And British companies have been partnering with institutions in Kazakhstan on geology to create a better understanding of the very significant resources the country has. As well as extractive industries, we think that there is a big potential in financial services, which supports the opening of the AIFC. Also in education, in agritech and high technologies areas, where the UK is one of the leading technological nations in Europe.
F: Mostly foreign business seeks to invest in the commodity sector of Kazakhstani economy. Now the government is running a large-scale program of industrialization, diversification of the economy, aimed to shift from resourced based economy. Can you name the most promising sectors for investments?
- I think financial services and agriculture have enormous potential. This year a Kazakh trade mission visited Northern Ireland to look at opportunities in agritech. The potential for increases in yield and agricultural products for Kazakh agriculture is enormous. And the UK has the most advanced agricultural technologies in the world.
Our legal and regulatory systems are recognized among the best in the world and there are opportunities for cooperation in this sphere as well.
The UK’s national technology adviser sits on Kazakhstan’s Digitalisation Board and advises on Digital Kazakhstan. In April we hosted Deputy Prime Minister Askar Zhumagaliyev in the UK, and he was looking at the UK’s world class expertise in e-government and cyber security.
F: You have mentioned the prospects of the financial services market. But during the discussions at Astana Finance Days, some of participants said that they are not ready to come to the AIFC because of a lack of liquidity. How British companies see it?
- I think British companies are, like other international companies, watching the developments here closely. For a new financial centre to succeed there is a real opportunity and it depends on the proper placement of the Kazakh IPOs, in Astana and London. This is a step to increase liquidity by accessing the world largest financial center, which is London.
F: Are the UK companies willing to participate as potential investors in the IPO of Kazakhstani national companies?
- I cannot speak for individual companies. But the road of liberalization taken by President Nazarbayev is winning international investments. By way of example, in the mining sector, introduction of a new code on subsoil and subsoil use is a critical measure for attracting international investment and building confidence.
F: Is it possible to say that foreign investors feel comfortable in Kazakhstan? Are there any aspects – legislative or other, which the government needs to pay attention first?
- Legal and regulatory certainty is fundamental to attracting investors. In the Ease of Doing Business annual survey Kazakhstan is in the top 40 in the world, which is a good position to be in. And if we look at financial services in particular, the creation of AIFC with its Court of Arbitration using English common law, gives additional assurance to foreign investors that the government is alive to the need to provide that kind of certainty.
F: At present, international proceedings are under way between the Kazakh government and Moldovan investors Anatole and Gabriel Stati. From your point of view, will it have any negative influence on the attitude of investors to the country? Will this process worsen the relationship between the state and foreign partners?
- I’m aware that there is an ongoing legal case and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that. However, I can say that it has not been raised with me by any British business person.