Uzbekistan in the United States: A Path for Stronger Partnerships
Author: Meray Ozat
Sep 22, 2023
This week’s United Nations General Assembly meetings brought in a lot of changes- and investments- to Uzbekistan. With Uzbekistan’s attendance at the C5+1 Presidential Summit, the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, and the Uzbek-American Business Forum, the Central Asian country has actively demonstrated that enhancing ties with the United States is one of its top priorities.
The C5+1 meeting with U.S. President Joseph Biden was the centerpiece of Uzbekistan’s week of international diplomacy. In this first-ever meeting between the U.S. President and the leaders of the five Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan showcased Central Asia’s trademarked multi-vectored foreign policy by expanding its political dialogue with Washington. However, this meeting was only a small part of Uzbekistan’s diplomatic endeavors in New York.
For decades, Uzbekistan was hidden from the United States by the Soviet Union’s “iron curtain,” limiting any possibility of a partnership. However, when Uzbekistan emerged on the world map as an independent country in 1991, it began to make its mark as a potential strategic partner for the United States. In the past three decades, the bilateral relationship between the two nations has remained stable and has steadily grown over time. This relationship reached a new level following President Mirziyoyev's official visit to the United States in May 2018. Since then, it has doubled the number of U.S. companies operating within its borders, reaching 300 U.S. companies in 2023, nearly twice as much as the number in 2017.
As the United States and Uzbekistan map their diplomatic path forward, their private sectors have followed. Along with the C5+1 presidential gathering, the Uzbekistan delegation attended a series of high-level business meetings aimed at increasing investments, developing stronger supply chains, and cultivating new business partnerships between Uzbekistan and other global powers.
Before President Mirziyoyev's visit, the Uzbek-American Business Forum, organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce, convened on September 15 in Washington, DC. The forum featured high-ranking government officials from both nations and leaders of various corporations. It resulted in the signing of 12 agreements spanning various sectors, including energy, engineering, agriculture, and transportation.
A major highlight of the business forum was its emphasis on the development of the Information and Technology (IT) sector. The Minister of Digital Technologies of Uzbekistan, Sherzod Shermatov, and the Senior Vice President of Hewlett Packard (HP), Britani Masolosalo, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement encompassed projects known as "HP Live," which aims to provide high-quality computers to 500,000 Uzbek young people, thus facilitating easier access to knowledge and skills in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
During his visit to New York on September 19, Uzbek President Mirziyoyev met with leaders of prominent international organizations. Mirziyoyev had discussions with the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, addressing global economic conditions and exploring opportunities for collaborative efforts between Uzbekistan and the IMF. In particular, they assessed the IMF's involvement in analyzing the stability of Uzbekistan's financial sector, providing advisory services for economic policy development, and implementing capacity-building programs.
Additionally, President Mirziyoyev convened with the President of the World Bank Group, Ajay Banga, in New York. The leaders discussed strategies to expand the World Bank activities and support services in Uzbekistan through increased assistance in banking, finance, investment, energy, water, and other critical initiatives. Both parties agreed to participate in the World Bank Advisory Council to develop foreign investments in Uzbekistan.
On September 19, President Mirziyoyev also met with the head of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce, Carolyn Lamm, as well as the leaders of the leading U.S. corporations including GE Healthcare, Oppenheimer, Cerberus Capital, CNH Industrial, and Cintana. During these meetings, the President signed various bilateral agreements aimed at exploring opportunities for expanding American businesses in Uzbekistan and discussing plans for implementing joint investment projects in the future.
A noteworthy event was the meeting between President Mirziyoyev, Seifi Ghasemi, CEO of Air Products, and Geoffrey Pyatt, Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources. They engaged in discussions regarding energy-sector cooperation, focusing on clean energy production, coal gasification, and gas production. This meeting culminated in an agreement to launch new investment projects in Uzbekistan with a total value of $10 billion.
President Mirziyoyev's agenda encompassed more than just business deals. During his meeting with Douglas Becker, the leader of Cintana Education, they delved into advancements in the field of education. This meeting yielded a concrete plan to establish the American University of Technology in Uzbekistan, with the Uzbek President providing full support to this educational initiative. The project is scheduled to kick off in 2024, with a primary focus on training individuals in disciplines including healthcare, engineering, architecture, and design.
The visit of the Uzbek President and government officials to the United States helped to develop both political and economic cooperation between Uzbekistan and the United States. These newly launched initiatives and projects, in collaboration with the U.S. government and private enterprises, underscore Uzbekistan's emerging role as a reliable partner for the United States and the Western world. As President Mirziyoyev emphasized in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), “The openness of Central Asia to the world is becoming a fundamental condition for ensuring the region's security and sustainable development.”
Despite the geographical distance, the agreements signed this week are helping to bring Central Asia and the United States closer together. But the high-level engagement between Uzbekistan and the United States witnessed in the last week doesn’t only signal mere economic or diplomatic efforts between the United States and a so-called “Middle Power” country, it also showcases a wider trend in Central Asia. The Eurasian heartland, long influenced by the Kremlin, is beginning to turn West.