Remarks
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
New York City
September 23, 2010


As prepared

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for inviting me once more to deliver opening remarks at this meeting of the Kyrgyz-North America Trade Council. I’m honored to be here at such a pivotal time in U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. I know that President Otunbayeva will be here later, but I’d like first to acknowledge some distinguished guests and express my sincere appreciation for their presence: Vice-Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ruslan Kazakbayev, Minister of Economic Regulation, Mr. Emil Umetaliev, and Mr. Marc David Miller, Executive Director of the Kyrgyz-North America Trade Council. All of you are playing important roles in bringing our relationship to where it is today.

Bilateral Relationship

Today’s U.S.-Kyrgyz relationship is the fruit of almost two decades of commitment between our people to build our ties. The United States is proud to have been one of the very first countries to recognize Kyrgyzstan on the occasion of its independence in 1991. The Obama Administration has placed a particularly important priority on engaging with Kyrgyzstan, both because of the terrible violence that gripped Kyrgyzstan this year, but also because of the unparalleled opportunity Kyrgyzstan has to establish Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy when elections take place on October 10. Let me take a moment to describe the ways we have supported Kyrgyzstan at this important juncture in its history.

First and foremost, we are focused on assisting Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to organize parliamentary elections on October 10. The US has provided more than $5 million to help the Government of Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz civil society prepare for what we hope will be free and fair elections held in a peaceful manner that will allow for wide participation by all members of the Kyrgyz people.

Second, we are helping the government respond to the immediate humanitarian needs of all those who were displaced by the June violence. The priority now is to provide shelter and help to those whose homes were destroyed in Osh and in Jalalabad to rebuild before the onset of winter. The United States has allocated $58 million in additional assistance, beginning with the July donor’s conference in Bishkek, and including President Obama’s announcement of $9.5 million in emergency aid to be distributed through UN agencies and the International Red Cross. We also attach a great deal of importance to helping to improve the security situation in Kyrgyzstan. We have supported the OSCE’s plan to deploy a Police Advisory Group, which we think provides a very valuable opportunity to train and mentor some of the police forces there.

We have encouraged the Government of Kyrgyzstan to reach an agreement on the deployment of the Advisory Group as soon as possible so that international experts, including U.S. personnel, can assist local enforcement in developing best community policing practices and help reduce tensions in the south. We support efforts for a thorough and credible international investigation into the June violence, so that those responsible may be brought to justice. We therefore support the request of President Otunbayeva for an international commission of investigation.

Trade

In addition to democracy and humanitarian assistance, we would like to see increased business and trade links between our countries. Open trade and protection of investments are keys to economic growth. Expanding our economic ties is part of our broad commitment to Kyrgyzstan. In 2009 Kyrgyz exports to the U.S. totaled $6.3 million. That same year, Kyrgyz imports from the U.S. totaled $51.9 million. U.S. investors put $23.1 million into Kyrgyzstan in 2009. We would like to see these figures grow. You in the Kyrgyz-North America Trade Council are key to making that happen and we are pleased to do all we can to support your efforts.

A second tactic for increasing trade is economic reform, and we’ve been busy on that front too. As part of our partnership with Kyrgyzstan, we have allocated substantial sums to economic growth programs. With that assistance we have sought to:

  • Increase the institutional capacity of the government, including the Ministry of Finance;
  • Encourage trade liberalization and reforms to increase investment;
  • Facilitate Kyrgyz participation in a regional electricity and energy market;
  • Build capacity of Kyrgyzstan’s agricultural sector to stimulate local economic development; and,
  • Encourage private sector competitiveness and an open business environment.

Lastly, I want to say a few words about the kinds of trade and business-oriented projects that our Embassy in Bishkek, most notably through USAID, has been delivering. Many of our projects reflect our understanding that trade is fundamentally a regional opportunity, requiring regional solutions and progress.

A legal framework of support is essential to sustained business investment. Since 2006, USAID has been providing technical assistance to strengthen commercial law frameworks, implement legal reforms, and streamline administrative processes in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. We also have partnered with Kyrgyzstan authorities in order to improve accounting to meet international standards, make tax administration more functional, and streamline customs procedures to facilitate border trade.

More broadly, the business climate is profoundly dependent on Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development and political environment, at the national and local levels. Looking to the elections and beyond, Kyrgyzstan’s political evolution is certainly a key topic for consideration in our Annual Bilateral Consultations that we hope to have later this year or early next year. So I invite you to join me in considering all these aspects of our bilateral relationship, and the reform efforts we can make together, as we look to a future of enhanced bilateral engagement to the mutual benefit of citizens of both of our countries.

You will find in the United States, a strong and engaged partner.

[This is a mobile copy of Remarks at Kyrgyz Opportunities Forum]