Continuing U.S. efforts over the past few years to expand trade collaboration with Central Asian countries to counter influences from Russia and China, senior U.S. officials met recently with their counterparts from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan under the U.S.-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. reiterated the importance of creating a more favorable environment in the region for foreign investment and private-sector activity. The U.S. recognized economic reforms that have been undertaken but emphasized the need for further improvements in (1) enhancing transparency, predictability, and the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights and (2) increasing alignment between domestic labor laws and international labor standards.

For their part, regional countries highlighted their interest in the reauthorization of the U.S.’ Generalized System of Preferences, which normally provides lower duties on thousands of products from beneficiary countries but has been dormant for the past few years, and “underscored [GSP’s] role fostering growth in the economic relationship between the United States and its Central Asian partners.”

The U.S. also noted the importance of incentivizing the diversification of economic corridors through more efficient logistics and customs procedures and of developing more resilient supply chains in critical sectors such as food and energy, efforts aimed at reducing the region’s economic vulnerability to both Russia (which the U.S. has sought to isolate economically in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine) and China (which the U.S has named its primary adversary).

This U.S. has already been working on this issue; earlier this year, the State Department announced a new Economic Resilience Initiative in Central Asia that aims to expand alternative trade routes for countries in the region, which borders on both Russia and China. Specific measures anticipated under this initiative include increasing regional countries’ shipping capacity, enhancing infrastructure along trans-Caspian trade routes, and resolving logistics bottlenecks by improving critical port, rail, and maritime logistics hubs.

Similarly, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced in October 2021 a five-year plan that will work to (1) harmonize customs and border procedures in the region, (2) facilitate public-private dialogue about reforms that can spur growth and increase investment, and (3) increase cross-border trade among businesses in the region as well as between Central Asian firms and the rest of the world.

Other topics of discussion at the TIFA meeting included intellectual property, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and digital trade, including promoting trusted and secure cross-border data flows and ensuring the participation of small and medium-sized businesses in global markets.

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