France pays special attention to Central Asia as a region with an important geopolitical position, significant energy and other resources, and great economic, investment, transportation, communication and humanitarian potential, writes Mukhiddin Khashimov.
Uzbekistan is considered by France as a large and influential state in Central Asia, which plays a key strategic role in the region and pursues a balanced and forward-looking foreign policy. Paris highly appreciates the regional policy of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, who has significantly activated the Central Asian vector of foreign policy, based on the principles of mutual benefit, equality, pragmatism and consensus. This new approach contributes to solving vital problems of Central Asia and maintaining stability, security and sustainable development of the region.
Uzbek-French relations have a deep history, as evidenced by the correspondence between the great statesman Amir Temur and French King Charles VI.
A new page was opened in the relations between the two countries with Uzbekistan’s independence. Today, it is observed Uzbekistan’s active open, pragmatic approach and France’s interest in deepening and expanding bilateral ties. The foreign policy activities of Uzbekistan’s leader have created a new political atmosphere and achieved positive results in a number of spheres of cooperation. A solid legal framework has been created between the two countries, consisting of 62 agreements, including 26 interstate and intergovernmental, 23 interdepartmental and 13 other agreements.
An open and trustful dialogue has been established between the leaders of the two countries. It is noteworthy that the presidents of the two countries are reformers: in Uzbekistan, the deep transformations in all spheres are underway under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev; similar processes are taking place in France under the framework of Emmanuel Macron’s program doctrine.
Since March 1, 1992, in more than 30 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations, 5 high-level visits have been organized: to France – 4, to Uzbekistan – 1. Over the last 5 years, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has visited this country twice. The first official visit took place on October 8-9, 2018 at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron. The French Republic became the first European country visited by the President of Uzbekistan since he took office in 2016. The agreements and trade contracts worth a total of $3.4 billion were signed at that time.
On November 21-22, 2022, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid his second official visit to France. During the visit, the two heads of state held negotiations, meetings with the President of the French National Assembly Yaël Braun-Pivet and representatives of leading companies and financial institutions of France, as well as joint visits to Uzbekistan’s national exhibitions at the Louvre Museum and the Arab World Institute. As a result of the visit, 14 bilateral documents were signed, as well as 59 agreements and contracts worth 6.086 billion euros.
Political dialogue and practical interaction between the countries is strengthened by active inter-parliamentary exchange. Both chambers of the Oliy Majlis have established groups for cooperation with the French Parliament. The French Senate has a France-Central Asia interparliamentary group and the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, has a France-Central Asia friendship group.
The French Republic is one of the active partners of the Republic of Uzbekistan in economic, investment, financial and technical spheres among European countries.
In recent years, the number of joint ventures and projects with the participation of French companies has tripled. The current portfolio of active joint projects in Uzbekistan has exceeded 5 billion euros. There are 46 enterprises with French capital in Uzbekistan, including 17 enterprises with 100% French capital.
At present, a number of large investment projects are being realized in Uzbekistan with the participation of French investments. In particular, the construction of a solar photovoltaic station with a capacity of 100 MW in Nurabad district of Samarkand region is underway with “Total Eren” company, geological exploration works on promising areas for uranium mining are carried out jointly with “Orano Mining” company, together with an international consortium, including the company “EDF”, a combined-cycle power plant with a capacity of 1600 MW is being built in Syrdarya province; together with “SUEZ”, the projects “Tashkent Water Sector Transformation Plan” and “Improvement of Drinking Water Supply in Surkhandarya province” and others are being implemented. The French company “Veolia” has received management of the heating network of Tashkent city on the basis of public-private partnership (PPP) for the next 30 years.
An effective mechanism of interaction – Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation between Uzbekistan and France was established. On May 5, 2023 in Tashkent city the 9th IGC meeting was held.
The 9th IGC meeting within the framework of the visit of Mr. Olivier Becht Minister-Delegate for Foreign Trade, Economic Attractiveness and French Citizens Abroad.
Systematic work on increasing investment and financial-technical cooperation continues, in particular, through the French Development Agency (FDA). The intergovernmental Agreement on the establishment and activities of the FDA and PROPARCO in Uzbekistan, signed in 2016, allowed to intensify bilateral cooperation. The total amount of funds allocated by FDA for the implementation of 10 projects amounted to 990 million euros of loans, 4.3 million euros of grants from FDA and 19.6 million euros of grants from the Investment Fund for Central Asia.
On November 20, 2022, the Program of Cooperation with FDA for 2023-2025 was signed, which envisages implementation of projects worth 1.070 billion euros.
Trade is the most important component of international relations to ensure the welfare of the two countries by creating sustainable income throughout the supply chain. For 2022, trade turnover amounted to $339.5 million (+20.9%): exports – $67.9 million (3.2 times), imports – $271.3 million (+4.5%).
In January-July 2023, trade turnover increased almost threefold – from $183.4 million to $517.6 million. Uzbekistan increased exports to 239.5 million dollars (3.5 times), imports from France – to 278.1 million dollars (2.4 times).
The issue of ensuring quality and safety of goods and services is an essential component of bilateral trade relations. The French side provides active assistance in the field of certification and standardization, including through the French representatives of “AFNOR”, “Bureau Veritas”.
One of the priority areas of cooperation are cultural-humanitarian, scientific-educational and tourist ties, which in recent years have entered the trajectory of dynamic development.
Already today, cooperation in these spheres has a multidimensional and multilevel character. Cultural personalities, scientists, parliamentarians, civil society institutions, mass media of the two countries are involved in strengthening cultural and humanitarian ties.
Today, the Association for the Study of Temurid Art and History and the Association “Avicenna-France” operate in France. Representatives of France regularly participate in the international festival “Sharq Taronalari” in Samarkand.
From November 2022 to March 2023, one of the largest and most popular museums in the world “Louvre” organized an exhibition entitled “Treasures of the oasises of Uzbekistan at the crossroads of caravan routes”, as well as from November 2022 to June 2023 the exhibition “Road to Samarkand. Wonders of silk and gold” at the Institute of the Arab World in France.
There is a growing common interest in interaction in the educational sphere as well. In Uzbekistan, over 200 thousand students in more than 700 schools, colleges and lyceums, and in 12 universities study French with great interest.
The established direct contacts between higher educational institutions also contribute to the deepening of relations in the educational sector. Today more than 40 higher education institutions of the two countries have established fruitful cooperation.
The expansion of tourism ties also contributes to mutual cultural enrichment. More than 20 thousand tourists from France visit Uzbekistan annually. The Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated October 4, 2018 established a visa-free regime for 30 days for French citizens to enter the territory of Uzbekistan.
In general, in recent years, the interest of Europe, and France in particular, has increased sharply to Central Asia and Uzbekistan, which can be traced to the following factors.
First, the strategic position of Central Asia is of great interest to EU member states. In the geopolitical context of recent years, France’s interest to the region, including Uzbekistan, has increased noticeably.
Secondly, the transit opportunities of the region as a connecting link between East and West, South and North. The EU has become a constructive partner of Central Asia in communications, trade and investment. Our region has become a reliable source of critically important raw materials as well as the center of the supply chain with the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also called the Middle Corridor.
The EU has allocated US $150 million from 2021 to 2024 for regional cooperation and integration and prioritized co-financing of digital connectivity projects in the region, hydropower and hydrocarbon energy projects through international financial institutions, Member States (the European Group) and existing Global Gateway Funds.
Third, Uzbekistan’s current domestic and foreign policies and wide-ranging reforms contribute not only to improving the welfare of the population, but also to peace and stable development in CA. “The Central Asian region is now experiencing economic growth, developing dynamically and grabbing the attention of the whole world. It is important for us to show our partners from Central Asia that we are interested in cooperation between our agencies. We have economic interests in the region,” declared in November 2019. Emmanuel Macron.
Fourth, France is also taking some steps towards Central Asia in terms of security and reforms. All the more so because the region neighbors Afghanistan, and issues such as organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism are among those to which Paris is highly sensitive. France is also providing various types of assistance to support reforms, strengthening the rule of law and free market in the region.
In conclusion, Paris is interested in developing interaction with Uzbekistan through political, economic, energy and cultural cooperation. Uzbekistan and France view each other as reliable partners interested in strengthening comprehensive strategic partnership and bringing mutually beneficial cooperation to a new level for the benefit of the peoples of our countries.
This article first appeared in the Islamabad Post, and is republished here with the author’s permission.
The Author, Mukhiddin Khashimov, is the Head of Department of the Information and Analytical Centre for International Relations under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan.