A special international online event on “Economic sustainability of Uzbekistan during the COVID-19 Pandemic”, organized on Wednesday 27 May 2020, brought together over 230 leaders, investors, officials, and analysts from 27 countries.
The event was initiated by the British-Uzbek Society and the Europe-Uzbekistan Association for Economic Cooperation (EUROUZ). The British company Eurasian Investor and Adam Smith Conferences acted as the organizers. The event was organized with the support of the Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Uzbekistan (CERR), as well as the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the UK.
The meeting, which was attended by the speakers from the UK, Belgium, and Uzbekistan, was broadcasted through the Zoom application and YouTube channel.
The event was opened by the Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the UK, Mr. Said Rustamov. The ambassador noted the prompt actions of the Uzbek government aimed at preventing the spread of the epidemic immediately after the first cases of the disease are identified and talked about the beginning of a complex process of economic stabilization and its return to normal course.
The survey of participants conducted during the webinar revealed a high level of optimism about the prospects for recovery of the Uzbek economy. Of the 123 respondents, 78% assume that Uzbekistan will be “more attractive” as a destination for foreign investors compared to other emerging and border markets. Also, 18% of respondents thought that Uzbekistan would be “much more attractive” than other developing countries in terms of investments.
The optimistic assessment obtained may reflect the main sustainability and level of diversification of the Uzbek economy described by the participants of the discussion during their presentations. Secretary-General of the Europe-Uzbekistan Association for Economic Cooperation (EUROUZ) Mr. Oybek Shaikhov pointed out several fundamental sources of Uzbekistan’s economic sustainability, including its strategic natural resources and relatively low external debt.
Mr. Shaikhov also stressed that the Uzbek government’s success in responding to the crisis associated with COVID-19 will only strengthen this resilience and that the government’s response to this challenge to date suggests that the government’s comprehensive reform program has proven to be timely and has factually passed the stability test.
However, the event also noted that the Uzbek economy still faces significant internal and external challenges due to the global slowdown and disruption of supply chains. The audience of the webinar, through the survey, expressed concern about the decline in employment and foreign investment, wherein each of these categories was identified by 28 percent of respondents as “the most significant area of concern to the Uzbek economy”.
The focus on employment is in line with the analysis prepared by the Centre for Economic Research and Reform (CERR), explained Mr. Umid Abidkhadjaev, the Deputy Director of the Centre and one of the speakers. During his speech, he presented the preliminary results of the survey “Consumer sentiment index”, which at the time of presentation was attended by over 6000 citizens of Uzbekistan. Some of the respondents said they expected the COVID-19 crisis to have a negative impact on employment. But Mr. Abidkhadjaev is confident in a rapid recovery, noting that 91% of Uzbekistan’s industrial firms have now resumed operations, in addition to 76% of construction firms, indicating that the demand for labor will recover in the short term perspective.
The forecasts of the international financial institutions, such as the IMF and EBRD, support the view that Uzbekistan will experience a “v-shaped recovery”, with growth rates ranging from 6 to 7 percent next year.
The Chairman of the British-Uzbek Society, Mr. Louis Skyner, who was the first initiator of the event, stressed in his speech the “true synergy between companies, banks and people” in Uzbekistan, which will be attractive to foreign investors, who are increasingly concerned about systemic weaknesses on the border and emerging markets. Skyner also noted that while Uzbekistan is able to continue to receive financial support from international creditors, the country also has the opportunity to use domestic resources, especially if the Uzbek government remains committed to the efforts to privatize and develop capital markets.
The opinion that COVID-19 taught the important lessons to the Uzbek government, private sector and general public were voiced by Mr. Eldor Mannopov, Managing Partner of “Dentons Tashkent” company, who explained that while “COVID-19 is a trial for both public and economic health” in Uzbekistan, the experience will “improve the immune system of the economy and create more opportunities”.
The video of the event: