SA eyes stronger economic ties with Kazakhstan

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cape Town - The Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Marius Fransman, on Tuesday congratulated Kazakhstan on its 20th anniversary of independence - set to be held on December 16 - and said South Africa's efforts at strengthening bilateral trade with the central Asian country would hold mutual benefits for both nations.

Kazakhstan may be best known as the homeland of fictional television character Borat, but the oil-rich ex-Soviet state is also a thriving emerging nation, looking to gain a foothold in the continent through South Africa.

Addressing a high-level delegation from Kazakhstan at a conference at the city's Taj Hotel, Fransman said relations with Kazakhstan could help boost South Africa's economy.

He said delegates from the central Asian country, who have been in the country since Sunday and will leave on Saturday, discussed co-operation in the areas of agriculture, mining, tourism - particularly the organisation of large sporting events - and ways to modernise the pension and financials systems.

The conference was organised by the Cape Town Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Joint Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.

The Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the US, Erlan Idrissov, said his country - which has doubled its gross domestic product (GDP) in the last four years - wanted to use South Africa as a springboard into the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, the Ambassador for Kazakhstan to South Africa operates remotely from Abu Dubai, but Idrissov said Kazakhstan wanted to open an embassy in South Africa by earliest next year.

He said two Kazakh mining companies - Eurasian National Resources Corporation and Kazakhmys, a copper producer, were already looking at the possibility of investing in South Africa.

Kazakhstan has the sixth largest reserve of natural resources in the world - mainly in chrome, uranium, zinc, lead and iron ore. It also has large oil and gas reserves.

Idrissov said the central Asian nation is keen on investing or co-operating with South Africa in mining, agriculture and food-processing, infrastructure development and education.

"Brics also creates an environment for us working together because Kazakhstan is an important member to Russia and China - two big members of the Brics," he said, while pointing out that any improved links Kazakhstan made with South Africa would not compromise its relations with Russia.

He said South Africans that invested in Kazakhstan also had the benefit of duty-free access to Russia and Belarus through the customs union the central Asian country shared with the two countries - creating a market of over 170 million people.

Kazakhstan's biggest trade partner, accounting for more than a third of all trade is the EU, with China the country's largest individual trade partner.

Kazakhstan has experienced an average growth rate of over 7% in the last 10 years and was one of the few countries not to experience negative growth in 2009, during the global financial crisis, when it grew at 1.2%, rebounding to 7% in 2010.

Idrissov said the country's rapid growth could be attributed to its focus on education and modernisation and diversification of the economy away from a dependency on oil and gas had also helped.

Kazakhstan was also looking to emulate the best examples across the world and had already adopted the lauded Chilean pension system, he said.

Idrissov joked that Kazakhis had Borat to thank for helping publicising the country to the world.

"Any publicity is good publicity. We took it with a humour," he said, adding that the intention of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's fictional character had not been to mock his country, but rather the stereotypes the West held of Kazakhstan.

Currently, there are no direct air links between Kazakhstan and South Africa, but flights are available through major European countries, Dubai, India and Malaysia.

For more details on investing in Kazakhstan, investors can visit www.invest.gov.kz. For investing in South Africa investors can visit www.tradeinvestsa.co.za.

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