AKIPRESS.COM - Tazabek business news talked to U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu about attraction of investments and improving business climate in Kyrgyzstan.
What industries in Kyrgyzstan are priority for cooperation for American companies?
Kyrgyzstan is not only a country of beautiful nature and warm, hospitable people, but also a nation rich in mineral resources, vast renewable energy opportunities, and a young, educated workforce. I believe that international companies, including U.S. firms, are starting to recognize that the Kyrgyz Republic has great potential to further develop these substantial resources. In addition, the Kyrgyz Republic lies at the crossroads connecting China to the rest of Central Asia, so entering the Kyrgyz market opens doors and opportunities to the rest of the region. I have the distinct privilege of serving in the Kyrgyz Republic for a second time and, after a decade of commercial development, I have observed an amazing expansion in the restaurant, retail apparel, hotel, and information technology sectors. I am pleasantly surprised to see American brands such as Papa John’s Pizza, Coca-Cola, Nike and KFC and I continue to hear that the local population is hungry for more Western brands and high quality, international products. There are a number of IT companies, members of the High Tech Park, who export their services to customers in the U.S. and other countries around the world.
A Kyrgyz-American business forum is being planned for Bishkek in September this year. Who will take part in the U.S. delegation? What will be on the agenda; what issues can the parties expect to discuss?
The U.S. Embassy works every day to promote commercial development, improve the investment climate and business environment, connect local businesses with international partners, and attract foreign investors and business partners to the Kyrgyz Republic. On April 25, the Embassy of the United States of America, in partnership with local entrepreneurs and businesses associations and with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), will host the first-ever Business Facilitation Seminar: Preparing for Global Partnerships at the Hyatt Regency Bishkek.
Through presentations on commercial topics such as business plan development, the protection of intellectual property, corporate governance, contract negotiations, due diligence, and the art of pitching an idea, we are seeking to build the capacity of the Kyrgyz business community to successfully partner with international companies. Presenters will prepare local entrepreneurs to demonstrate to foreign enterprises their potential to be a viable business partner with an international entity. Participants will learn about franchising from a panel of international franchise owners, who will speak about the challenges and rewards of developing a successful partnership with foreign corporations. The seminar is one element of our broader commercial development strategy to encourage companies from the United States, Europe, Japan and South Korea – countries that are underrepresented in this market – to explore business opportunities in the Kyrgyz Republic. We are also planning an International Franchise and Trade Expo on October 10, 2019 in Bishkek, supported by the U.S. Embassy in partnership with JIA Business Association.
Representatives of which American companies have already expressed their interest in establishing ties with the Kyrgyz Republic?
Just recently, we conducted a webinar with U.S. companies interested in learning about the business climate here in the Kyrgyz Republic. Over 70 companies registered, representing a wide range of sectors such as food and beverages, green energy, smart technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, business consultancy and others. I shared my perspective on the political and economic climate here, conveyed our efforts to expand the bilateral relationship, and offered these American entrepreneurs the opportunity to ask targeted questions related to their respective fields and interests. The event introduced a wide range of U.S. companies to the potential for investment and business development in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Continuing on this topic, how many companies with U.S. capital are working in Kyrgyzstan today, and in which sectors?
As far as I know, we have over 300 companies with significant U.S. connections operating in the Kyrgyz Republic among a wide variety of business sectors. I’m sure you’ve noticed a number of U.S. franchises around Bishkek, such as KFC, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Papa John’s Pizza, New Balance, Levi’s, Nike, and so on. Most U.S. franchise owners are local entrepreneurs who invested in these business ventures not solely with financial capital, but also their expertise and valuable experience as successful business leaders. To attract more American or Western companies, Kyrgyzstan needs to improve the business climate. Reducing corruption, recognizing contract sanctity, improving judicial independence, increasing transparency within the public procurement process, and enforcing the protection of intellectual property are all important steps towards a more attractive investment environment. Foreign businesses are constantly on the hunt for new markets with untapped potential, which is exactly how I see the Kyrgyz Republic. The challenging business environment causes some concern among potential investors. The elimination of corruption and the greater rule of law are the type of steps toward an improved investment climate that foreign investors need to see.
What is the annual volume of trade between the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States?
The total trade volume in 2017 was approximately $156.3 million. It has continued its gradual increase for the last four years and we anticipate this positive trajectory will continue in the future. A number of USAID programs support several export-oriented sectors of Kyrgyzstan’s economy through the provision of grants and technical expertise, in addition to workshops and excursions to foreign exhibitions. In the last few years, USAID helped garment and agricultural companies acquire export contracts totaling $6 million with partners in the United States, Germany, and other countries around the world. This increased the nation’s agricultural exports by approximately 4%. In addition, USAID continues to work closely with the tourism sector to promote the Kyrgyz Republic as an enticing tourist destination, raising the country’s ranking by tourism experts to one of the top ten destinations in the world. This is an incredible achievement and portends even more growth potential.
As U.S. State Senior Bureau Official Alice Wells said, the family of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev illegally took over $6 million to the United States during his presidency. Of these, about $4.56 million has been returned to the government of the Kyrgyz Republic. What is being done to determine the location of and to return the remaining stolen assets? Do you have any progress in this regard to report?
At this point, of the $6 million ordered forfeited, U.S. authorities recovered approximately $4.6 million and repatriated the funds to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic. The Governments of the United States of America and the Kyrgyz Republic will continue to collaborate on recovering and returning funds stolen by the Bakiyev family.
In addition to this case, with which other cases of illegally-acquired assets have the Kyrgyz authorities requested assistance?
The U.S. Embassy is working closely with the Kyrgyz Government to determine further areas of cooperation related to the seizure and return of stolen assets and to fight corruption. We have excellent cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Interior and the State Committee on National Security. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have proposed a memorandum of understanding on legal cooperation with the Kyrgyz Republic that could assist in future investigations.