The lifeblood of any developing economy is foreign direct investment (FDI). Nations need to attract outside capital to develop infrastructure and human resources, to spur economic growth in order to create better living conditions for their people. The process can be tricky, as governments grapple with legacy issues, like heavy state asset ownership, poor rule of law, corruption and misallocation of capital.
Central Asia is a part of the world where there is a lot of economic upside to be harvested, as China develops the new Silk Road, and natural resources production is on the rise. However, the region’s “soft infrastructure,” including regulatory institutions, capital markets, courts and regulatory frameworks can be improved.
As an anchor nation in the region, Kazakhstan is working hard to secure FDI through the launch of the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), and the use of this innovative business hub to coordinate the effort to bring in foreign capital to raise revenue and improve the living standards of the Kazakh people.
This year and next, Air Astana, the oil and gas giant Kazmunaigaz and the national railroad all will see at least some of their shares float in this emerging capital market, with more companies from Kazakhstan and the region considering IPOs.
AIFC also boasts the first English law-based court and arbitration center in Eurasia. AIFC will deploy English common law for dispute resolution and has actually hired top-flight English judicial professionals to preside over the process, including Lord Harry Woolf, the former chief justice of England and Wales.
“Kazakhstan decided it would put its commercial legal system above reproach. In 2015, it imported a whole legal system from England, along with English common law, to deal with commercial issues. It also imported some English judges to sit on the bench,” wrote Norway News.
The arbitration facility based on English common law should give overseas investors more comfort when dealing with the Kazakh investment culture.
The AIFC is a unique undertaking to raise the attractiveness of investing in Kazakh projects by improving the rule of law, the financial sector infrastructure, the legislative base, and support for foreign investment.
“We must clearly understand that attracting foreign investment will develop the economy and allow us to solve the issue of the quality of life of the population, create new jobs and solve social issues,” said Prime Minister Askar Mamin in a note on April 22, as the government set up the Coordinating Council for Investment Attraction and appointed Mr. Mamin investment ombudsman, reported FDI Intelligence.
Discussing the agenda for the AIFC, Finance Minister Alikhan Smailov said, “The proposed measures will allow to consolidate and quickly form investment subsidies for investors and begin a comprehensive work to increase the volume of net direct investments. At one of the next meetings of the government, a complete list of all necessary measures for the implementation of new approaches and the corresponding Roadmap will be submitted.”
The government has also pledged to address some concerns raised by the domestic and international business community, such as rule of law, the volatility of the local currency, the tenge, infrastructure and allocation of land, decriminalization of tax offences and migration, reported FDI Intelligence.
“We are ready to work through the new approach regulations and actively work in the new structure in the future, which will not only attract investments, but also better understand the system challenges that exist in the economy,” said Agris Preimanis, chair of the Kazakhstan Foreign Investors Association and country director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The Kazakh government has also pushed for greater educational initiatives to support the human capital side of the equation. No country can develop without assuring that its youth understand the modern global economy.
The Astana International Financial Centre is opening competence centers at Kazakhstan’s major universities to improve investment literacy. The initiative also intends to help develop the key competencies and practical skills of new experts in finance, investment and other industries, reported The Astana Times.
What makes AIFC attractive to foreign investors? First of all, the most unprecedented preferential conditions in the entire region, including independent financial regulation based on international standards, wrote In-Depth News.
When these developments are combined with the effort to improve global communication by switching the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin, and the unique geographical position of the AIFC, the stars could be align to allow Kazakhstan to be successful in its quest to attract capital from abroad.
As global power shifts from West to East in the next century, Kazakhstan should be well positioned to profit as a global financial center.