Developing diversified and efficient national and regional transport infrastructure that gives Uzbekistan fast and easy access to the world markets is one of the key economic priorities of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has been implementing an ambitious program of large-scale economic reforms, which should ensure long-term sustainable economic growth by attracting advanced technologies and investments, as well as expanding foreign trade, primarily the export of high added value products.
According to Boston Consulting Group, in the next ten years, the investment potential of Uzbekistan will reach $65 billion, of which up to $20 billion will be spent on non-resource industries. Despite the pandemic, the volume of international transportation of goods of Uzbekistan in 2020 amounted to 47.1 million tons, of which: export – 13.3 million tons (+ 17.2%), import – 24.7 million tons (+3.1%), transit – 9.1 million tons (+ 15.3%). For Uzbekistan, a landlocked country without access to the open sea, economic development is closely linked with increasing transport and transit potential of the country.
In order to untap this potential there are important institutional and regulatory reforms are underway in Uzbekistan. In 2019 a new Ministry of Transport was created to coordinate the state policy in the development of road, rail, air, river transport, metro, and road facilities. In 2018 a five-year comprehensive program was adopted to develop new transport and transit corridors, network of logistics centers, to expand the fleet of vehicles and aircraft.
Currently, a national “Strategy for the development of the transport system until 2035” is being developed. It envisages the improvement of the management in transport sector, introduction of new approaches to training and retraining of workers in the system. Also, the adoption of new a law “On Transport” is expected to create a single network transport and logistics system.
Uzbekistan is also paying major attention to the development of regional transport corridors in Central Asia connecting North-South and West-East routes. According to the World Bank, an integrated approach among the Central Asian countries to improve transport connectivity will contribute an extra 15% to the region’s GDP.
The absence of direct access to seaports seriously hinders the economic growth of Central Asia. This contributes to a lag in development behind the maritime states of 20%. GDP as calculated based on purchasing power parity is reduced to 57%. According to UNCTAD, for the Central Asian countries, transport costs in many cases reach 60% of the value of imported goods.
President Mirziyoyev has identified the main priorities of Uzbekistan in the development of transport corridors in Central Asia: First, the implementation of transport and communication projects that allow connection of Central Asia with the largest seaports and world markets; Second, the formation of a Trans-Afghan corridor with access to South Asia, as well as the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line; Third, further development of transit potential and increase of the transport component in the national economy.
Uzbekistan has reached some degree of success in implementation of these priorities. In recent years, road, aviation and rail links with neighboring countries have developed rapidly. For instance, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan resumed air traffic and restored the Galaba-Amuzang-Khoshady railway. The operation of border checkpoints, including eight for road transport and one for rail, has been restored. The commissioning of the restored section of the Uzbek-Tajik interstate railway line Amuzang-Khoshady can play an important role in the development of transit traffic, as well as create additional opportunities for Tajikistan to access Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have built the Turkmenabad-Farab railway and road bridges, which are important corridors for the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transport and transit route. This transport corridor has expanded due to the joining of Kazakhstan and India, giving the countries of the region access to the Indian Ocean. The corridor is designed to connect Central Asia with Iranian ports in the Persian and Oman Gulfs.
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have launched bus routes and high-speed rail links.
Early this year Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan reached a consensus to build a Mazar-i-Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar railway. It will reduce delivery times for goods from South Asia to Central Asia, the CIS and Europe. For example, once the project is fully implemented, transport from Pakistan to Uzbekistan will take not 35 days, but only 3-5 days. The railway will also create a powerful platform for economic development in Central and South Asia. This means new jobs, the construction of roadside infrastructure, and the potential for the development of rich mineral resources along the rail route.
Uzbekistan is also actively cooperating with the Caspian states in transport. For instance, using the potential of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will play a key role in establishing regular transportation of goods from Turkey and Europe to Central Asia and China.
In order to coordinate the regional efforts to develop transport corridors Uzbekistan is also calling for the establishment of a Central Asian Council for transport communications and adoption of a regional strategy to form a common transport space.
In general, the importance of reliable transport communications to ensure development is well known to the countries of Central Asia and especially to Uzbekistan, whose territory was once an important trade crossroad on the Great Silk Road. Uzbekistan’s efforts to transform Central Asia, the least interconnected region in the world until recently, into an important hub for inter-regional trade, will undoubtedly bring long-term benefits to Uzbekistan itself as well as to the development and prosperity of the entire region.