Saudi-American military exercise “Native Fury 22” continues in the Kingdom

INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress’, Uzbek FM MP Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News

JEDDAH: There are striking parallels between Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform agenda and the Uzbek government’s bold transformation plan, New Uzbekistan, according to Furqat Sidiqov, Uzbek’s deputy foreign minister.

Speaking a day before Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrived in the Kingdom on Wednesday for a state visit – the first by a leader to the country since Islam Karimov’s visit in 1992 – he said these shared visions augurs well for the future of bilateral trade. and cooperation.

“Saudi Arabia has the capabilities to achieve its Vision 2030 goals,” Sidiqov told Arab News ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the Saudi-Uzbek Business Council, hosted by the Uzbek consulate in Jeddah.

Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Furqat Sidiqov interviewed by Arab News’ Rawan Radwan in Jeddah. (Photo by Sultan Baajajah)

He added that the reforms and roadmaps the two countries have crafted are similar, representing clear visions of progress, as do the countries’ young and vibrant populations.

“The two nations are working closely together and moving forward in joint cooperation within our strategies,” Sidiqov said. “We are closely following the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 strategy and we support its bid for Expo 2030.”

Over the past five years, he explained, Uzbekistan has implemented a national development strategy aimed at facilitating its transition to a market economy, which has provided fertile ground for the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. businesses and a more diversified economy.

An Uzbek chef prepares plov – a dish known around the world as pilaf – in a small cafe in Tashkent. Eager to diversify its sources of income, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors. (AFP)

He said the strategy echoed that of Saudi Vision 2030, which opened up the Kingdom’s economy to capitalize on new sectors beyond hydrocarbons and actively encourages entrepreneurship, as well as the development of technical skills and creativity among its young population.

For decades, Uzbekistan has relied heavily on a handful of basic exports, including cotton, gold, oil and gas. Eager to diversify its sources of income, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors.

On Wednesday, in line with their complementary visions, Uzbekistan and the Kingdom signed more than 10 investment agreements worth SR45 billion ($12 billion).

The Saudi and Uzbek delegations signed a number of agreements between the two countries’ private sector institutions in Jeddah on Wednesday.
(Photo by Sultan Baajajah)

Among them is a 25-year deal, worth $2.4 billion, for Saudi utility developer ACWA Power to build a 1,500 megawatt wind project in Uzbekistan, to help the country achieve its objective of obtaining 40% of its electricity needs from renewable sources. by 2031.

Uzbek officials said that in recent years, Saudi investments in various sectors of the Uzbek economy have increased significantly. There are now 38 joint ventures, 20 of which involve direct Saudi investors. Still, Sidiqov said, there is potential for even closer business cooperation, especially in food processing and distribution.

“The numbers do not reflect the capabilities of the two countries,” he said. “We are working with the Kingdom to increase the number of joint ventures.

A woman works on a cotton plantation near Tashkent. Uzbekistan is diversifying its sources of income and has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture and other sectors. (AFP)

“Agriculture plays an important role in the economic development of Uzbekistan and we are one of the best countries in terms of food production, food security and we have the ability to export food products, fruits and vegetables organic to the Kingdom.

“The plan is to make the Kingdom an intermediate station for food processing and packaging, to prepare it for export to other countries.”

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Although they do not share a border, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have been linked by religion, knowledge and culture for hundreds of years. Of the historical figures who have traveled and studied across the Arab and Muslim worlds, four hail from places that are part of modern Uzbekistan: the physician Ibn Sina, the mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, and the Islamic scholars Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Al-Tirmidhi.

Among the tourist attractions of Uzbekistan is the historic architecture of Itchan Kala, a walled inner city of the city of Khiva, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Shutterstock)

The exchange of ideas and cultures continues in the modern era thanks to the expansion of air travel between Uzbekistan and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and more flexible visa rules.

“To further stimulate the exchange of cultures, direct flights will start in October, via Flynas and Uzbekistan Airways, and Saudis will be exempt from entry visas for a 30-day stay,” Sidiqov said.

A view of Islam Karimov International Airport in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Photo Shutterstock)

Current cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan extends far beyond trade and cultural exchanges into the diplomatic sphere, guided by shared security interests and humanitarian efforts across the region.

In the year since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal from the country, regional powers such as Uzbekistan have sought to engage with the new government in Kabul to help the Afghan people at this difficult time.

“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is one of the highest priorities and our government has put in place various initiatives and programs to support Afghanistan,” Sidiqov said.

“In the spirit of solidarity between neighbours, we have ensured that our relationship is one of continued support. By working closely with the government, we not only want to provide humanitarian aid, but also help them provide job opportunities for their young people and be a gateway to Central and South Asia.

An Afghan businessman works in his aluminum cauldron workshop near the town of Termez in southern Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan plays a key role in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. (AFP)

He added that in the city of Termez in southern Uzbekistan, for example, the government has established centers to help young Afghans receive an education and develop their skills to prepare them for the job market.

“We are working to help reconstruction programs and develop its economy to help make it a country of opportunity,” Sidiqov said. “Our allies are helping and supporting us in this endeavor.”

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, participated in an international conference titled Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and opportunities in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in July last year.

Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih leading a delegation on an official visit to Uzbekistan in 2021. (Reuters file photo)

In July this year, a Saudi delegation also participated in the international conference Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development, also in Tashkent, during which the Kingdom reaffirmed its commitment to promoting regional cooperation.

In June, Saudi Arabia announced a $30 million grant to support the Afghanistan Humanitarian Trust Fund, which operates under the Islamic Development Bank in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which the Kingdom and Uzbekistan are members.

“As Afghanistan’s neighbour, our primary goal is to provide safe passage of aid to those in need in Afghanistan,” Sidiqov said.

“We are working closely with the Afghan government to develop a food security roadmap and provide employment opportunities for young people. We serve as an intermediary between the world and the Taliban, and as the “voice of Central Asia”, we have encouraged the Afghan government to keep its promises. »

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