The European Union (EU) and the Republic of Uzbekistan held their 17th Cooperation Committee Meeting on 2 February 2021. In view of the ongoing travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was held online.
The participants discussed the impact of the pandemic and exchanged views on their efforts to address the health emergency and to recover from its socio-economic impact. The EU and its member states have mobilised €123 million for Central Asia, including €36 million for Uzbekistan to support the country’s post-pandemic recovery. The EU congratulated Uzbekistan on its pandemic response to date, and on its focus on maintaining good regional cooperation.
The Cooperation Committee reviewed the latest economic developments in Uzbekistan and in the EU, with a focus on the latest reforms and the business and investment climate in Uzbekistan. The EU referred to the situation of the largest European investor in the country, underlining that the company should be able to expect a reasonable return on their investment.
The EU and Uzbekistan discussed the status of their negotiations for an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which are well advanced. They also discussed Uzbekistan’s application for GSP+ status, which would grant unilateral trade preferences granted for sustainable development and good governance under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences. The EU reiterated its support for Uzbekistan’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organisation.
Regarding technical cooperation, the EU supports Uzbekistan’s Development Strategy, in particular the plan to modernise and diversify the economy with a view to creating jobs and assuring a sustainable income for the population. The EU outlined the European Green Deal at the heart of its recovery efforts, and how this would shape the programming of EU development cooperation during its next phase, from 2021 to 2027. The two sides discussed cooperation in the energy sector placing particular emphasis on sustainable energy investments and on nuclear safety, as well as efforts to address climate change and achieve climate neutrality.
The Cooperation Committee reviewed recent developments with respect to human rights, including Uzbekistan’s implementation of reforms with a view to promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country. The EU looked forward to cooperating with Uzbekistan during its tenure on the UN Human Rights Council, in 2021-2022. The EU urged continued ambition to address remaining issues in particular with regard to criminal justice reform, reform of the penitentiary system, the fight against all forms discrimination, and assuring an enabling environment for civil society. The EU welcomed the elimination of child labour and the significant efforts made during the 2020 cotton harvest to eliminate forced labour, and encouraged Uzbekistan to continue to work with the International Labour Organisation and civil society with a view to rooting out remaining instances of coercion.
The Cooperation Committee discussed the regional situation in Central Asia and Uzbekistan’s role in contributing to regional stability, including its proactive support for the peace process in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has adopted a positive approach to relations with its neighbours and to international partners, which will contribute to enhanced regional stability, prosperity and people-to-people exchanges. It will also allow Uzbekistan and the region to draw the full benefits from new initiatives for sustainable connectivity in Eurasia.
The meeting was co-chaired by the Acting Managing Director for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional Cooperation and OSCE of the European External Action Service, Luc Devigne, and the Deputy Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shukhrat Vafaev. The Cooperation Committee meeting will report to the next meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation Council, which will take place at the level of Foreign Ministers later this year.