H.E. Mr Eduard Auer highlighted the importance of supporting economic diversification and private sector development in Central Asia in order to improve the lives of citizens and create a conducive environment to businesses. The CAI programme can contribute to the achievement of these objectives by enhancing the business climate and the capacity of BIOs. Mr Daniiar Imanaliev shared the recent reform plans of the Kyrgyz government to improve the country’s competitiveness, such as regional clusters, sector specialisation and the creation of a Business Ombudsman. Ms Nodira Mansurova, Associate Director at the EBRD, underlined the bank’s major initiatives in the region through the establishment of a digital platform for SMEs and of Investment Councils. Mr William Tompson, Head of OECD Eurasia Division, stressed on connectivity and productivity challenges in the region and the need for Central Asia countries to better co-operate to achieve the region’s economic potential. Mr Johannes Stenbaek Madsen, Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan, stressed on the importance to improve public-private dialogue among all different stakeholders and policy-makers within the business community. He also highlighted the critical role of the EU in supporting the Central Asian countries’ transition from planned to market economies and in fostering their economic integration.
Following the opening, participants representing CAI projects presented and discussed their most recent achievements. As part of the Investment and Competitiveness in Central Asia project, the OECD is involving public and private stakeholders to provide policy recommendations to governments on issues such as access to finance and SME internationalisation. Rural development was discussed through the perspectives of local tourism and agriculture sectors. The Strengthening rural and community tourism BIOs for Inclusive Economic Development in Central Asia project completed training for tourism companies, including tour operators, and developed promotional materials such as a common Central Asia tourism website. The Value Chain Competitiveness of Agro-business and Food Processing SMEs through Sustainable Development and Eco-Innovation project offered numerous training sessions on a wide range of topics to BIOs and companies, including women entrepreneurs. The Networking Intermediaries and Competitive Enterprises in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan project highlighted the objective to deliver good quality services responding to SME needs and shared the project priorities on developing skills of SMEs and BIO staff. The Professional Housing Management in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan project confirmed the importance of skill development for BIOs with the aim to improve the refurbishment and energy efficiency of buildings. Better connectivity in Central Asia was also discussed by two projects: the Strengthening Transport and Logistics BIOs in Central Asia project that aims to increase the number of associations in transport and logistics and help them become the voice of the sector in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; and the project on Intermediary Organisations: Specialized and Integrated Services for Export Oriented Food Processing SMEs that promotes agrifood exports by providing capacity building to BIOs on topics such as food safety and commercial standards.
Participants also discussed policy challenges that BIOs and SMEs face in the region and how to better address them. Access to finance remains a key barrier that could be tackled by expanding public and private financial programmes as well as the use of the Investment Facility for Central Asia, which combines EU grants with loans. Green finance should also become a priority for donors. Connectivity is still hampering the economic potential of Central Asian SMEs. Better integration can be supported by improving infrastructure, trade facilitation and customs as underlined by the EU Border Management in Central Asia (BOMCA) project.
Moving forward, better co-ordination of EU-funded projects and new public-private dialogue platforms can foster the involvement of BIOs in law and policy-making, improve their capabilities and enhance SME access to financial resources and public services, ultimately contributing to SME development.