Central Asia Consultative Meeting: Strengthening Regional Ties and Expanding Horizons
Author: Meray Ozat
Sep 18, 2023
On September 14, Dushanbe hosted the 5th Consultative Meeting of the Heads of State of Central Asia. President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon extended a warm welcome to the leaders of neighboring Central Asian countries, including President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedow.
This annual Consultative Meeting, initially proposed by Uzbekistan in 2017, has emerged as a pivotal platform for cooperation, exclusively for Central Asian countries. Over the years, the Consultative Meeting has become a major event that has taken place annually in different Central Asian countries, with Kazakhstan in 2018, Uzbekistan in 2019, Turkmenistan in 2021, and Kyrgyzstan in 2022 hosting the event. Tajikistan's hosting of the 5th meeting marked the culmination of this regional initiative, encompassing all of Central Asia.
Unlike previous sessions, the 5th meeting also welcomed the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, as a guest of honor and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, marking the first time in history to have a country leader beyond Central Asia to join this regional conference. President Aliyev expressed his confidence in the potential of this regional cooperation format: “It is the first time that I am participating in the Consultative Meeting, and I wish to express my confidence that this format of regional cooperation will contribute to bringing our countries and peoples closer.”
Azerbaijan is closely tied to Central Asia with their common historical and cultural roots. It is also an important “gateway” and a transport corridor for Central Asia to access Europe. President Aliyev expressed his belief in the bilateral relations between Central Asia and Azerbaijan:
“With growing economy, demographics and geopolitical potential, Central Asia and Azerbaijan is a single historical and cultural geographic region of strategic significance in world politics. Azerbaijan and the countries of Central Asia are bound by the centuries-long brotherhood ties of our peoples. Shared cultural roots are the solid foundation of interstate relations.”
He also noted the increasing trend in bilateral trade with the Central Asian countries, which increased over three times last year and an additional 50% surge within the first seven months of 2023. In addition, both sides have also built joint investment funds with more than $1 billion in investment plans for the next three years. President Aliyev indicated his readiness to serve as a reliable partner for prospective large joint projects.
The meeting highlighted the multi-sectoral developments within the region, emphasizing their interregional bilateral relations. The leaders provided updates and assessments on ongoing collaborative projects spanning education, energy, transportation, infrastructure, and trade sectors. Kazakhstan’s President Tokayev noted that the trade turnover among Central Asian countries increased by 80% and reached $10.6 billion in the last five years. With this positive trend, President Tokayev expressed confidence in the region's potential to expand its regional trade volume to $15 billion.
Expanding on the region’s priorities, each leader echoed the same concerns regarding transportation infrastructure development, industrialization, and digitalization, as well as social developments through cultural exchanges and joint media projects.
Uzbek President Mirziyoyev stressed concerns regarding the immense pressure being placed on Central Asia as a result of the current geopolitical rivalries. "We are talking about the violation of trade and transport and logistics chains.…” Central Asia is feeling the consequences of the current global uncertainty, and all leaders expressed that it is essential for the region to upgrade its transport links to reduce the impact of multipolar competition.
In response to these challenges, he proposed the immediate installation of a full-fledged free-trade zone within Central Asia, specific mechanisms for the development of effective transport corridors to access Asian, European, and Middle Eastern markets, and an interregional transport and transit agreement.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev ensured that Azerbaijan is working to develop its transport links to European markets, stating: “We are modernizing the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway to meet the rising demand for cargo transportation through the East-West route. The cargo volume via that road will be increased from 1 to 5 million tons. In parallel to that, the capacity of the Baku International Sea Trade Port is also being expanded from the current 15 to 25 million tons.”
The meeting resulted in the signing of several agreements, including the Joint Statements on the results of the Fifth Consultative Meeting of the Heads of the State of Central Asia, an Agreement on General Direction for Youth Policy among the five Central Asian countries, and an Agreement on Strengthening Land Transport Connectivity in Central Asia.
All the leaders of Central Asian nations have unanimously agreed to enhance regional cooperation and maintain the ongoing meeting structure. The 6th Consultative Meeting of the Heads of State of Central Asia next year will rotate back to Kazakhstan.
The configuration of the Consultative Meeting of Central Asian Heads of State serves as a vital forum that unites the countries of the region independently of external influences. It addresses the pressing requirement for mutual comprehension, unity, and regional development. The five-year anniversary of the Consultative Meeting symbolizes the unwavering commitment of Central Asian countries to strengthen their bonds, which is imperative amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics.