Optimism Meets Reality at the B5+1 Forum in Almaty

The inaugural B5+1 Forum, a conference dedicated to strengthening business between the five Central Asian republics and the United States, came to a close today in Almaty after a second well received day of panel discussions.

The B5+1 Forum was created by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), which aims to use public-private partnerships to create a better environment for business and trade. The B5+1 platform brings international and local companies together with high-ranking government officials from all six countries, to learn about the difficulties that each side faces, and suggest new ways to attract partners and investment.

Following an opening day focused on “Looking within Central Asia”, today’s speakers brought attention to “Central Asia’s place in the world economy”. The morning began with a keynote speech by Eurasian affairs expert S. Frederick Starr, who argued that because the five countries are now members of different trade blocs, the revival of the Central Asian Economic Union could break down their existing barriers to business and trade with the United States.

During a morning session on international partnerships, foreign experts brainstormed ways to speed up the Central Asia region’s economic integration with the rest of the world. To an audience of business leaders whose overall mood was optimistic, the EU’s ambassador to Kazakhstan Kestutis Jankauskas and World Bank economist David Knight brought a dose of realism, by explaining that business in Central Asia is not performing as well as in other emerging regions. This, they both said, is because the governments – and business owners – have mostly still not let go of self-defeating ways of approaching markets and investment.

The middle session went into more detail about the investment landscape, particularly in terms of IT and fintech. Jennifer Miel, executive director for Kazakhstan for the US Chamber of Commerce, mentioned that all five Central Asian countries have seen healthy increases in foreign direct investment since 2021. This was soon tempered by Anatoly Motkin of the agency StrategEast, who said that to achieve further sustainable growth, the region must unify its legislation and best practices, so that foreign investors can treat it as a single market as much as possible.

The Forum’s closing session explored the role of business associations in public-private dialogue. The panel was moderated by Eric Hontz, CIPE’s director for accountable investments, and featured the executive directors of the US Chambers of Commerce in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – Aisuluu Sydygalieva, Nilufar Bulbulshoeva and Tatyana Bystrushkina. Discussion centered on best practices and solutions for effective member representation.

The B5+1 Forum forms part of CIPE’s program called “Improving the Business Environment in Central Asia” (IBECA). CIPE themselves are affiliated to the US Chamber of Commerce – the catalyst behind the B7 and B20 platforms – and receive funding from the US Department of State.

Early indications are that the B5+1 Forum in 2025 will be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.


Times of Central Asia