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Building a Bridge in Central Asia

8/14/2017 11:20:05 AM

In his annual address to the nation last January, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined priorities for what he called “Kazakhstan’s third stage of modernization.”

He set an ambitious goal of transforming the country of 18 million people into one of the top 30 most-developed countries in the world by 2050.

That’s a big part of what brought a Kazakh delegation, including Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the United States, Erzhan Kazykhanov, to Minnesota last week. The group wrapped up a one-week visit to farms, factories and other sites in the Midwest with a Friday morning stop at DEED. Later in the day, they visited Crown Iron Works in Roseville and Grain Handler in Lakeville.

The Minnesota Trade Office coordinated the visit to DEED, with Deputy Commissioner Kevin McKinnon officially welcoming the group.

Kazakhstan is hoping to build partnerships with U.S. companies and investors that will help the country become an economic power in central Asia. With Russia perched on its northern border and China to the east, Kazakhstan – the world’s ninth-largest country by area – is uniquely positioned to serve as a bridge to those huge markets, the ambassador said.

“We want people to understand that our future doesn’t lie in just energy and gas,” he said. “We have untapped potential that we want to develop.”

Until fairly recently, 60 percent of Kazakhstan’s exports were oil and gas. With prices for those commodities at 13-year lows and not expected to rise any time soon, if ever, the country has set its sights on developing its technology, innovation and industrial sectors.

Kazykhanov said major non-oil exports from his country include steel, silicon and raw materials. Kazakhstan is also a major agricultural market, which is part of the reason the delegation chose to visit the Midwest.

In Minnesota, the group stopped at AGCO, a farm implement manufacturer in Jackson. During the visit at DEED, representatives from Crown Iron Works – a producer of oilseed extraction equipment and technology – and Fargo-based RDO Equipment – a dealer of tractors and other farm machinery – gave short presentations.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Union satellite, once had 1,200 nuclear warheads aimed primarily at U.S. cities, according to Kazykhanov. When the Soviet empire collapsed in the early 1990s, those warheads were removed. He credits disarmament with helping the country to eventually attract $260 billion in foreign direct investment.

With the days of the Cold War now a distant memory, Kazakhstan hopes to build on that growth by developing relationships in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States.

Go to DEED’s Facebook page to see pictures of the delegation’s visit.

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