US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who signed the agreement, said its objective is "to increase and diversify investment opportunities between the United States and Central Asia. We look forward to further strengthening our bilateral relations, and relations with the region as a whole."
But regional analysts are sceptical that it will lead to increased economic cooperation in a region characterised by rivalries in everything from water resources to security. "It is unlikely that five Central Asian states will coordinate their efforts in benefiting from this agreement since technically speaking it is five separate treaties between five individual countries and the USA, not between the region as a whole and the USA," Sergei Andreyev, Reserch Fellow at the London-based Institute of Ismaili Studies, told IRIN.
The agreement establishes a US-Central Asia trade council. The trade representative's office said the agreement would complement efforts by three of the countries - Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Negotiations on this are already under way.
The five countries have a combined population of 55.9 million. US imports from Central Asia totalled US $570.3 million in 2003; US exports amounted to $548.1 million in the same year.
Kazakhstan accounts for more than 80 percent of US investments in Central Asia and stands to benefit most from the trade agreement. "This agreement will convey a new impulse to economic cooperation among signatory countries on bilateral and multilateral levels," Kanat Saudabayev, Kazakhstan's Ambassador to Washington, said at the signing ceremony on Tuesday.
Andreyev warned that while liberalisation of CA-USA economic relations could be beneficial for the region if it increases foreign competition in the regional market - currently dominated by South Korea, Japan, Russia and Iran - politically it could be perceived as an endorsement of increasingly authoritarian regional elites and exploited as such by Islamic radicals in the region.
... Payvand News - 6/8/04 ... --