Uzbekistan celebrates its 20th Anniversary of independence this month. It is a landmark date for the whole nation, an opportunity to summarise the main achievements and identify the priorities for the future.
Today, Uzbekistan is known for its political stability, dynamic economy and openness to cooperation. As the heart of the Great Silk Road and a crossroad of civilisations, Uzbekistan has a unique historical heritage. Uzbekistan is a natural bridge between East and West, both economically and culturally.
Since independence, Uzbekistan has put forward a range of important foreign policy initiatives which have influenced the multilateral dynamics of the region and further afield. Among these policies was the initiative establishing the International Counter-Terrorism Centre within the UN Security Council (1999), which led to the formation of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (2001). Other achievements include the creation of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre for Combating Drug Trafficking (2002) and the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia (2006).
Uzbekistan’s foreign policy priorities include assisting in the normalisation process of the situation in neighbouring Afghanistan. Established at our initiative in the late 1990s, with the support of the UN, the ‘6+2’ Contact Group on Afghanistan (which included six bordering countries, along with Russia and the US) has proved to be effective. Now, we propose to resume this group in an enlarged ‘6+3’format involving NATO.
The progress accomplished by the country under the leadership of the President, Mr Islam Karimov, is obvious and broadly recognised. Despite our difficult Soviet legacy, Uzbekistan has succeeded in implementing its own model of development. The country has completed the transition from an administrative-command system of governance to a democratic state with market economy. The first ten years of independence were dedicated to creating the foundations of our statehood, while the second decade marked the transition from a strong state to a strong civil society.
In a speech on 12 November 2010, the President outlined the concept of further development of the country; the priorities are democratising state power, reforming the legal system, improving the electoral legislation, ensuring freedom of speech, strengthening civil society institutions, deepening market reforms and liberalising the economy.
In the past 20 years, the country’s GDP grew 350 per cent, while per capita ratio grew 250 per cent, real incomes of the population 380 per cent, state expenses for social security 500 per cent, while child and maternal mortality rates fell and life expectancy increased six years to 73 for men and to 75 for women.
In 2008-09, when many countries were suffering from the global economic crisis, Uzbekistan recorded 8.5-9 per cent GDP growth, in 2010 it was 8.1 per cent and in 2011 it is estimated to be 8.5 per cent. According to leading international financial institutions, these indicators are among the highest in the world.
The aforementioned achievements have made our country attractive to foreign partners. Nowadays, Uzbekistan enjoys economic cooperation with 180 countries. The value of foreign trade turnover grew from US$805.6 million in 1990 to US$21.8 billion in 2010. Importantly, the structure of our trade has radically changed, transforming Uzbekistan from a country which exported raw materials and imported finished products, to a country with growing exports of value added products which imports mainly high-tech equipment.
Favourable conditions have also been created for foreign investors in Uzbekistan. The country has gained a reputation as a reliable partner with a qualified workforce, rich mineral resource base and developed transport infrastructure. The volume of investment has reached US$100 billion, and the number of enterprises with foreign capital is now 4,200. Our main partners in the implementation of investment projects are General Motors, Texaco, MAN, Daimler Benz, Gazprom, Lukoil, Petronas, CNPC, Isuzu Motors, Sumitomo, Korean Air and Korea Telecom, among others.
Established in the Navoi region of Uzbekistan, the Free Industrial and Economic Zone (FIEZ) has formed a modern, well-diversified industrial base by attracting advanced technologies and resource-efficient equipment. Business entities registered in the FIEZ are exempt from many types of taxes and customs duties for imported equipment and raw materials (depending on the volume of direct investments made). There are 21 ongoing projects in FIEZ now.
The Fund for Reconstruction and Development of Uzbekistan (whose capital currently stands at around US$7 billion) plays an important role in modernising the economy. Today, its portfolio consists of 55 investment projects worth over US$18.5 billion, of which US$4.3 billion is co-financed by the Fund.
Other reform priorities focus on raising a new generation of patriotically-minded, forward-looking citizens who are able to contribute effectively to the development and prosperity of the country. The National Training Programme created a new educational system, consisting of a nine-year compulsory free education, three year training in vocational college or academic lyceum, higher education, as well as postgraduate studies.
In addition to 65 national universities, branches of six foreign universities have been established, including Westminster International University, Turin Polytechnic University, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Plekhanov Russian Economic University, Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, Management Development Institute of Singapore and Nagoya University.
Significant support for our young generation is provided by national organisations such as Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation, Sen Yolghiz Emassan (You Are Not Alone), Sog’lom Avlod Uchun (For Healthy Generation), Kamolot (Perfection) Youth Movement, Ustoz (Master), Istedod (Talent) as well as a number of others.