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Central Asia

Uzbekistan’s hazy reform agenda

The country’s government is talking a big game about opening up – but how likely is real change?

President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov la
Former president Islam Karimov still casts a large shadow over Uzbekistan.
Source: Getty Images

It is hard to think of an emerging economy in the Asian region that’s having a better Covid-19 crisis than Uzbekistan. Central Asia’s most-populous nation expanded 1.6% in 2020 while the US and Europe flirted with a return to the 1930s.

Since September 2016, president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has confounded the conventional wisdom about what’s possible from Tashkent. Few expected a reform Big Bang when Mirziyoyev succeeded Islam Karimov. Odds were, Mirziyoyev would stick with the Soviet-lite policies of his predecessor, whom he served as deputy prime minister.

But Mirziyoyev veered the other way, abandoning the fixed exchange-rate system, cutting corporate taxes, slashing import tariffs, liberalizing capital markets, rewriting the central bank law and creating a state privatization agency. His government eased visa restrictions and began negotiations to join the World Trade Organization.

The country faces very challenging and painful reform elements
Alisher Djumanov, Silk Capital

These changes meant Uzbekistan was able to navigate the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.

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