His Excellency Ambassador Eduards Stiprais, Head of the EU Delegation to Uzbekistan, was the honorary speaker at the January Monthly Meeting.
The event was opened by AmCham Vice President, Tõnu Grünberg. In his opening remarks, Mr Grünberg looks forward to what promises to be a very successful year for AmCham, highlighting AmCham members, and the challenges and opportunities currently taking place in Uzbekistan.
As the honorary speaker, the Head of the EU Delegation covered various issues of bilateral trade and investment relations between the EU and Uzbekistan. Bilateral trade between the EU and Uzbekistan reached EUR 1,793 million in 2015. Imports from EU Member States were worth EUR 1,546 mln, while exports to these countries totaled EUR 246 million.
Ambassador Stiprais also spoke of the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which grants developing countries non-reciprocal access to the European market. The GSP ensures that Uzbek exporters pay lower or no duties on some or all of the products they sell to the EU. Both sides admit that current levels of trade are unsatisfactory, but that efforts such as trade stimulation and investment are currently underway to increase it.
Both sides hold regular dialogue on business related matters under existing institutional mechanisms provided by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). The EU-Uzbekistan Sub-committee on Economy, Trade and Investment, involves Uzbek and officials of the European Commission, who regularly meet in both Tashkent and Brussels to discuss business opportunities and the abolition of barriers to bilateral trade and investment.
The EU also stimulates exports of Uzbekistan’s key products by working to removing barriers for their access to the European markets. In December 2016, for example, the European Parliament approved the Textile Protocol to the PCA. The document is designed to improve trade in cotton and textile products through a decrease of customs duties for imported goods.
Additionally, the EU is providing millions of Euros in development assistance for Uzbekistan between 2014 and 2020 concentrated on rural development. Goals include poverty alleviation and wealth creation, improvement in quality of life, living standards, and food security for people residing in rural areas, as well as the protection of natural resources.
Another project focuses on investing in strengthening of human capital across the local managerial landscape. An EU-funded project called “Management Training Programme (MTP) – Capacity Building for SME Management” is one of the most successful initiatives supported by the EU Delegation which was implemented in Uzbekistan from 2013-2017.
Ambassador Stiprais closed by encouraging Uzbek entrepreneurs to invest in Europe, and answering questions asked by meeting participants. Topics of interest to the audience included the future of the European Union after the so-called “Brexit”, access by Uzbek students to European Universities, Schengen visa issues and measures, and many more issues regarding Europe that are important to AmCham members and the Uzbek business community.