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Since 2007, the EU and Uzbekistan have held annual Dialogues on Human Rights as well as Justice & Home Affairs in Brussels and Tashkent. EU relations with Uzbekistan are embedded in the regularly reviewed EU and Central Asia Strategy for a New Partnership, which outlines the overall cooperation objectives, policy responses and priority fields for the EU's engagement in Central Asia.
The new leadership of Uzbekistan under President Mirziyoyev has launched significant reforms of the judiciary, administration and security services and is making strides to improve the business climate. The EU encourages these and other reforms and in particular their effective implementation. Several human rights defenders have recently been released from prison and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the country for the first time in May 2017. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media also paid visits to the country in October 2017. The EU has engaged with the new leadership through repeated visits of the European Parliament, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, European Financial Institutions and EEAS/Commission officials. This process is complemented by concrete measures to support the Uzbek reforms, e.g. cooperation to implement the EU-Uzbekistan Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy has been renewed in February 2017.
On 10 November 2017 Uzbekistan hosts the EU – Central Asia meeting of foreign ministers in Samarkand, where the European Union will be representative by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.
The EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is implemented and monitored by several fora for dialogue and decision-making:
Under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) Uzbekistan and the EU grant each other most-favored-nation treatment with respect to:
The PCA also provides for the removal of all quantitative restrictions on trade between the EU and Uzbekistan, with provisions to protect domestic producers in cases where they may be harmed by imports. In addition, the PCA provides for economic cooperation with a view to ensuring that Uzbekistan’s international trade is conducted in conformity with the rules of the WTO. Following the consent of the European Parliament to the ‘Textile Protocol’ amending the PCA, the relevant provisions of the PCA will now also apply to the bilateral trade in textile products.
Uzbekistan benefits from the EU Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) – an autonomous trade arrangement whereby the EU provides non-reciprocal preferential access to the EU market to developing countries. The GSP, designed to contribute to the growth of economies in developing countries, ensures that exporters from these countries pay lower or no duties on some or all of the products that they sell to the EU.
The EU's development cooperation with Uzbekistan and other countries in Central Asia is based on a multi-annual regional cooperation strategy adapted to the situation and needs of each country.
The Government of Uzbekistan embarked upon a structural reform aiming at transforming a Soviet-style economy based on cotton and its primary processing to an industrial and agro-industrial economy. The EU Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020 supports this development policy shift - it earmarks €168 million for support to Rural Development in four subsectors: [i] diversification/productivity; [ii] sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems; [iii] employment and income generation; [iv] enhancement of socio-economic living standards of the most vulnerable groups in rural areas.
This allocation under the EU Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) is complemented by several thematic programmes, including the Instrument for Stability, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the Non-State Actor programme, as well as assistance provided by a number of EU Member States. Thematic cooperation also covers human and social development, sustainable management of natural resources, nuclear safety, and migration and asylum. Uzbekistan is also eligible for the Investment Facility for Central Asia (IFCA), which was launched in 2010 to blend EU development assistance with loans from European financial institutions for the 5 countries in Central Asia. In 2017, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has renewed its cooperation with Uzbekistan. The European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a framework agreement with the country in October 2017.
The Central Asia region is particularly prone to natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods and landslides. Improving the capacity of national institutions and local communities to prepare for and respond to disaster is a priority for EU humanitarian action in the region. Under its current Disaster Preparedness Programme, the Commission is funding community-based initiatives to increase the resilience of the population to recurrent disaster. Between 1994-2015 EU humanitarian funding to Central Asia has been in excess of €222 million.
Private sector development and the industrialisation of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are key priorities of the government of Uzbekistan. Upon request, the European Union has therefore extended uts Management Training Programme until September 2018. So far 126 senior managers from leading Uzbek SMEs have been trained in modern management techniques, including practical training and involvement in day-to-day management in 20 EU Member States. 29 professional trainers have further enhanced their expertise to better perform their daily work in chambers of commerce and industry or other organisations that provide support to businesses.