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Amid trade wars, countries like #Kazakhstan remain open for business




The battle between openness and isolationism in world trade is nothing new. However, global interest in so-called ‘trade wars’ has increased hugely of late, due to the escalation of tensions between China and the US. Recently, both countries have imposed a series of tariffs on products, amid warnings from the IMF and others that this ‘war’ could significantly reduce global growth, writes Yerkin Tatishev, Founding Chairman of the Kusto Group.

For my native Kazakhstan, a strong commitment to openness and a collaborative approach to trade are fundamental elements of our emerging success and part of what make Kazakhstan unique. Economic integration with all of our close neighbours, and even some countries further afield like Vietnam, has allowed us to attract significant FDI and advance our development, all the while leveraging our geographic proximity to more than 2 billion consumers.

Of course, Kazakhstan is best known for its commodity exports, particularly oil, uranium and other critical metals. In part thanks to these resources, the country is deeply integrated into the global economy – but as we know, relying on commodities for economic growth can have its risks. Today, we must do more to diversify the Kazakh economy using sustainable resources and the power of comparative advantage to create long-term sources of wealth and income growth, especially in under-developed areas of our economy.  In short, we must put our tremendously rich land back to work, and recall our proud heritage of using and respecting that land – to build a modern and integrated agricultural economy.

Kazakhstan today has over 180 million hectares of territory suitable for agricultural production, and of that, only 20 million are being actively farmed.  This statistic alone makes us unique in the world and spells out just how profound the opportunities are. Next door to us, millions of demanding consumers in Russia, China, the Middle East and elsewhere are thirsty for high quality, healthy agricultural products – ranging from non-GMO crops and fruits to healthy, naturally raised beef, lamb and other proteins.

There are few sectors more globally interconnected than agriculture – wherein farmers, ranchers, suppliers and distributors each share responsibility for a complete outcome. The ability to operate and trade freely is therefore vital to this life-sustaining industry. As populations and purchasing power increase, so does the global need to expand and invest in regions with untapped agricultural potential, like Kazakhstan.

At Kusto Group, this is why we have decided to take the plunge and invest in helping to establish a modern agricultural economy.  Based on the tremendous success of places like Nebraska, in the Midwest of the United States, where a single state is capable of contributing upwards of $30 billion in economic output per year, we are convinced Kazakhstan can do the same or even better.


Recently, we entered into a joint-venture partnership with the American firm Baumgartner Agriculture Science and Service (BASS), a leading non-GMO seed producer, capable of providing precisely the right seeds for local growing conditions across a spectrum of products.  The right seeds, combined with the right farming methods – including modern irrigation – mean high quality and reliable feed for our Black Angus breeds at KazBeef, an agricultural division of Kusto Group.  All along this complex value chain, we see opportunities for the growth of other supportive businesses that will help bring new jobs into the sector.

Of course, in an open economy, companies are able to pursue their own policies of openness and seek partnerships and collaborations – just as we have done. And for Kazakhstan to truly reach its vast agricultural potential, these products must reach export markets and new consumers.  This is why I applaud our Government’s approach to building and supporting an open, trade-based economy.

Trade openness is a two-way street. When countries trade freely, other forms of collaboration follow, and positive relationships are formed. For emerging economies, trade-linked investment provides the means to fight poverty, lower unemployment and increase productivity and opportunities for residents.

In Kusto Group, I have, with my colleagues, founded and developed a company which takes an international view while benefiting from local expertise. Open trade, both in the country of our origins, Kazakhstan, and the many countries of our operations now, has been crucial to our growth. This experience has demonstrated that it is entirely possible to both support domestic enterprise and explore and expand into new markets – whether that be through joint ventures or the exchange of best practice.

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