Uzbekistan Time Zone UTC+05:00
Capital City Tashkent
Currency Uzbekistani som
National Day 1 September
“THE UK CERTAINLY lives up to its name: it’s a kingdom!” declares Uzbekistan’s new Ambassador Said Rustamov. “It has magnificent architecture, palaces and parks. I’ve discovered the British are very open and hospitable – not prim like the stereotype.” The Ambassador arrived in London with his wife and their two boys in October.
Mr Rustamov joined the foreign service in 1997, after graduating from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, established after Uzbekistan’s Independence exclusively to prepare specialists in foreign relations.
He started his diplomatic career in the Foreign Ministry dealing with American Affairs. He served twice as Head of the Department for the Americas and as Deputy Chief of Mission in Uzbekistan’s Embassy in Washington DC. Mr Rustamov also headed the Ministry’s Forecasting and Strategy Planning Department and worked in his country’s Embassy in Spain.
Prior to this appointment, Mr Rustamov served as Ambassador in Israel. One of the key issues in his portfolio was to introduce Uzbekistan to Israel’s technologies and innovations. He also worked with the large diaspora of immigrants from Uzbekistan to strengthen cooperation. “This diaspora is predominantly Jewish,” he explains. “For centuries, the Jewish community lived in Uzbekistan in harmony with local people. And during World War II, 250,000 Jews found shelter in Uzbekistan. Today, this community bridges the two countries.
“Although we are 95 per cent Muslim, Uzbekistan is very tolerant,” he continues. “As a secular country, we push forward the humanistic essence of Islam. This tradition of ‘enlightened Islam’ is connected to the history of Uzbekistan; its land has become one of the cradles of science and culture developing during the Islamic Golden Age. We are proud of our heritage and promote the importance of knowledge and inter-faith dialogue.”
As Ambassador in London, Mr Rustamov clarifies, “the UK is a key partner for Uzbekistan and bilateral relations are growing dynamically. In October 2019, the two countries signed Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, plus bilateral trade is increasing annually, and major British companies are interested in working with Uzbekistan. A year ago, Uzbekistan issued its first $1 billion Eurobonds at the London Stock Exchange, about 35 per cent of which were bought by UK investors.
As a result of a visa-free regime for UK citizens introduced in February 2019, the number of British tourists to Uzbekistan – the home of the famous Great Silk Road cities like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva – increased twofold.
“There are new opportunities to enhance cooperation thanks to large-scale reforms and modernisation taking place in Uzbekistan in all sectors, from government and the judicial sphere to economic liberalisation, society and foreign policy.”
With regards to the UK’s reputation for world-class education, he’s looking to expand relationships in this area. Over 60 per cent of Uzbekistan’s 34 million population is under the age of 30. “Our young generation is a great asset, but we must make sure it is educated and qualified. We are opening presidential schools based on the British curriculum to act as a model for all other schools to aspire to, to raise overall standards.” And we are working with a number of UK universities to establish their presence in Uzbekistan.
Similarly, Mr Rustamov is looking to collaborate and introduce British standards in many other fields, including the banking and finance sector, and law. “We put a lot of effort into raising Uzbekistan’s economic attractiveness for international investors. For example, we are studying the possibility of establishing an international financial centre in Tashkent and introducing the English law in special economic zones in Uzbekistan.”
His country’s hard work seems to be paying dividends. In The World Bank ease of doing business index, Uzbekistan jumped to 69th place in 2019 (having been ranked 166th in 2012). The Bank has also reported that Uzbekistan will be the leader in GDP growth among European and Central Asian countries in 2020-23. Furthermore, The Economist named Uzbekistan the ‘Country of the Year 2019.’ “The reforms will continue and they are irreversible,” he notes.
Of Brexit, the Ambassador has high hopes of his country’s relationship with the UK going forward. “There is big potential and the timing is good. Uzbekistan is being opened for business and is positioned in the centre of the huge central Asia market. We have the most diversified economy in our region, in addition to human capital. Uzbekistan is rich in natural resources being in the world top 15 for gold, uranium, copper, gas, among others. And Uzbekistan is highly focused on strengthening its relationship with the UK.”