By Rosa Vercoe, the BUS Communications Director

On 9th October 2019, the British-Uzbek Society (BUS) held an informal talk by Chris Allan, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan (2015 – 2019). The event was organised by the British -Uzbek Society and generously supported and hosted by the Uzbekistan Embassy in London.

Chris Allan has recently accomplished his diplomatic mission in Uzbekistan and taken a new role of Director of Global Strategy, Department for International Trade. He is responsible for leading the department’s contribution to cross-Whitehall international policy and developing DIT’s own strategic thinking function. Chris continues to be involved in developing and strengthening British- Uzbek relations, building on his experience, expertise and connections acquired during his nearly 4-year mission in Tashkent.

The talk started with introductions by Mr. Aliyor Tilavov, Counsellor of the Embassy of Uzbekistan, and Dr Louis Skyner, the BUS Chairman and Partner of Dentons Europe LLP.

In his talk, Chris focussed on the two key themes: 1) positive changes that have happened in British -Uzbek relations over the period he stayed in Tashkent and 2) his reflections on some reforms currently happening in Uzbekistan and their future directions.

The speaker shared some of the positive changes that he has observed in the last two-three years of his stay in Uzbekistan.

Trade and commerce:  the trade volume between Britain and Uzbekistan is still below of what would be desired, and more could be done in this direction. There are, nevertheless, some positive changes, such as: bringing to Uzbekistan the UK export finance opportunities, the UK business trade delegations and holding a series of meetings focused mainly on oil, gas and infrastructure.

Education trade: stronger educational links have been developed between the UK and the Uzbek education establishments, for example, cooperation alongside Presidential schools.

Return of EBRD to Uzbekistan:  EBRD champions new reforms in Uzbekistan related to the national currency liberalisation, tax and customs regime improvement and opening up the new type of economy.

Progress on human rights: The President of Uzbekistan has recently released some political prisoners.

Freedom of Media:  The BBC correspondent has been accredited in Uzbekistan.   There is a new emerging trend of independent use of websites.

Governance, democracy and justice:  The Westminster Foundation for Democracy is currently working in Uzbekistan building capacity of the Parliament and the MPs to enable them to actively implement new progressive reforms and challenge any existing and potential hindrances.

The UK partnership with the Uzbekistan Ministry of Justice: the partnership enabled to underpin and arrange a number of reforms to improve transparency. For example, the Ministry of Justice has recently introduced broadcasting of trial proceedings which would have not been possible in the past. There are noticeable improvements in transparency of the government budget produced last year. There are some new improved laws on gender equality, domestic violence and freedom of media.

People-to-people contacts: British Council has been a great asset in Uzbekistan facilitating educational links between the two countries, particularly at tertial level.  Thanks to the British Council support, the Uzbek version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been made possible.  The group of Uzbek students from Tashkent had the opportunity to showcase their acting skills in the UK by presenting the Hamlet to the British public in Uzbek language for the first time.

A number of British performers had the opportunity to hold their concerts in Uzbekistan: Jess Stone, British rock musicians, Scottish dancers, pipers and drummers.

Chis Allan expressed his optimism regarding the current reforms and the overall mode of changes happening in Uzbekistan, not underestimating the challenges that the Presidential strategy might experience in the process. The reason for his optimism lies in the success ingredients which he sees in the present Uzbekistan:

  • Clear and determined leadership of the country with drive, clarity and ability to make tough decisions;
  • The experience of other countries (particularly, in the former soviet space) which have already overcome some tough challenges of economic liberalisation and political reforms, and the openness of Uzbekistan’s leadership to advice and lessons learned by other countries in transition;
  • Fiscal capability of Uzbekistan, which has significant natural resources and capacity to cushion the inevitable drawbacks to be caused by the economic liberal reforms and its impact on ordinary people. The economy transition from the state-owned enterprises to privatisation may lead to job losses in the state sector. The social safety nets, which the government is able to provide, will soften the impact of the economic transition on ordinary people. Transition has its costs and things will get tougher before they get better.

Chris has also shared his reflections on possible risks associated with the economic transition and liberalisation, such as: bringing the right type of foreign investors to the country, setting mechanisms to prevent ‘hijacking’ of certain parts of the economy by the elites and oligarchic groups, ensuring the right type of privatisation and ideas take place.

On the political arena, as he mentioned, there are expectations of the international community to see the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan in an open and pluralistic context ensuring openness and transparency.

Chris ended his talk with a couple of personal stories which gave a personal flavour of his life in Uzbekistan, which he found very enjoyable and fulfilling not only for himself but also for his family. Apparently, his kids learned skiing in Uzbek mountains! The audience had an opportunity to ask some thought-provoking questions and engage into a discussion on a number of current issues concerning further development of Uzbekistan. The talk finished off with a delicious plov and networking drinks! Everyone loved it!