The British Embassy in Tashkent celebrates 25 years of UK-Uzbekistan relations.
On 17 February Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Mr Chris Allan, hosted a press conference devoted to the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and Uzbekistan.
The Ambassador briefed Uzbek and foreign journalists about the highlights of the Embassy’s achievements during the 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and Uzbekistan, and in 2016 in particular. The Ambassador spoke about the state of bilateral relations today, and the prospects for the future.
18 February 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. Contact between our two countries goes back over six hundred years and correspondence still exists between King Henry IV of England and Amir Temur, but it is only in the years since Uzbekistan’s independence that our relations have become systematic.
Today the bilateral relationship between our two countries covers many areas, including political, commercial, security, educational and cultural spheres. On security issues, the UK and Uzbekistan are strengthening dialogue by deepening their analytical exchanges on Afghanistan and co-operation on a range of shared regional concerns. The British Embassy is also working together with the Government of Uzbekistan to tackle organised crime, including narcotics and people-trafficking. The UK has regular exchanges with Uzbekistan’s Parliament, its Central Election Committee and its National Human Rights Centre, supporting governance reform and universal values. The UK continues to strengthen cooperation with Uzbekistan on trade, economic and investment relations, in particular through the Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council.
Ambassador Allan spoke about the many positive results achieved over the 25 years of UK-Uzbekistan bilateral political relations. He mentioned the visit of the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, HE Mr. Islam Karimov, to the United Kingdom in November 1993, which gave a powerful early stimulus to the development of the relations between two countries. Fittingly, last year – the 25th Anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence - was a particularly important one for bilateral relations in the political sphere. In April 2016, Tobias Ellwood, Deputy Minister at the Foreign Office, visited Uzbekistan to further deepen the bilateral relations between the UK and Uzbekistan. And in December 2016, Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, also visited Uzbekistan. Minister Duncan was privileged to be the first foreign dignitary to congratulate President Mirziyoev on his inauguration in person. The visit of His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulaziz Kamilov, to Great Britain in November 2013 marked an important step in enhancing relations between the two countries and the UK hopes to welcome His Excellency back to London during the course of this year.
Inter-parliamentary cooperation is an important part of our bilateral ties. In August 2010, a Group of the Oliy Majlis for Cooperation with the Parliament of Great Britain was established. In September 2010, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Group of the Oliy Majlis and the UK’s “Britain-Uzbekistan” All-Party Parliamentary Group. In November 2011, the UK parliament hosted a visit for members of parliament from Uzbekistan led by Senators Safoev and Artikova, and in 2013 and in 2016 a member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Vivien Stern, made reciprocal visits to the Parliament of the Republic of Uzbekistan. They discussed relationships between our two parliaments and progress on human rights in Uzbekistan.
On the subject of co-operation in the field of trade and investment, the Ambassador said that the British Embassy will continue to strengthen cooperation with Uzbekistan on developing trade, economic and investment relations by encouraging and strengthening direct contacts between Uzbek and British businesses, supporting trade missions to and from the UK and through the Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council. UBTIC, established in 1994, is an annual event which is co-chaired by Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, H.E. Elyor Ganiev and the UK’s Dame Barbara Hay, herself a former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan. The Ambassador highlighted last year’s event held in Tashkent in November, which brought together representatives of the Government of Uzbekistan and record numbers of British companies to help further develop trade and investment relations between the two countries. This year’s UBTIC event will be held in London in the autumn.
According to trade statistics published by the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade for 2016, UK-Uzbek trade amounted to US$151.3 million - a 43% increase on the previous year. Exports to the UK from Uzbekistan include ferrous metals and cotton. Leading imports from the UK include services, machinery and equipment, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods.
The Ambassador stressed the great importance of the defence relationship between the UK and Uzbekistan and expressed his gratitude for Uzbekistan’s assistance and longstanding support for transit arrangements that facilitate UK military operations in Afghanistan. Defense cooperation between the two nations has been steadily increasing over the period and is continuing to develop in a mutually beneficial manner. Among many other notable achievements, the British Embassy is proud that the UK was the first nation to sign a defense education agreement between our military academies.
The Ambassador touched upon Uzbek-British co-operation in the field of education. In 2016 the British Council celebrated its 20th Anniversary in Uzbekistan. During the course of these years it has developed an excellent partnership with the Ministries of Public and Higher and Secondary Specialised education of Uzbekistan. It contributes to large scale national reforms in English and Education, and that includes collaboration in developing a new generation of textbooks for English learners, reform of teacher training at all education levels and giving access to cutting edge learning resources from the UK. Many thousands of teachers and students have directly benefited from these programmes. In 2015, the British Council also re-launched their arts programme to inspire to create new opportunities for art professionals and organisations in Uzbekistan and the UK to work internationally, collaborate, innovate and reach new audiences.
Since 1994 talented young specialists from Uzbekistan have had an opportunity to continue their postgraduate studies in top British universities through the British Government’s Chevening Scholarship Programme. All alumni of the programme are now well-placed and contribute to the development of their country. The British Embassy has also been very successful in securing places for Uzbek candidates in the International Leaders Programme of Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a visit and engagement programme for people with proven leadership potential from public service, business, media, academia and international organizations.
The Ambassador also recognized that Westminster University’s presence in Tashkent, as well as that of a rapidly expanding British School, provide good opportunities for young people of both countries to collaborate on education.
Among other aspects of the bilateral relationship, Ambassador Allan mentioned the growing “people to people” links. This includes greater numbers of British tourists discovering Uzbekistan, gaining an understanding of its deep history and culture, and meeting its hospitable people. Our sports communities are also seeing more and more of each other through prestigious sporting events hosted in Uzbekistan, and the UK was recently able to provide a British rugby coach to work with the Uzbek rugby team in the run up to the Asian Rugby Championship tournament in Tashkent in 2016.
Above all, the Ambassador emphasized that Uzbekistan’s drive to improve the business environment, defeat corruption and attract foreign investment is an important and very positive endeavour. He highlighted the significant changes that the Government of Uzbekistan has made to its relationship with ordinary people, through online portals and other feedback mechanisms, which are also bringing many positive results. The UK is happy to help with these reforms where it can, either by sharing expertise or funding capacity building in Uzbekistan’s own institutions. This year, the British Embassy is supporting programmes worth over US$500,000 in order to support the government’s efforts on economic reform, transparency, accountability and criminal justice. In addition, as a major donor to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and contributor to European Union development finance, the UK provides many millions of dollars towards grants and concessional loans for development in Uzbekistan every year.
Concluding, Ambassador Allan underlined that the United Kingdom welcomes Uzbekistan’s ambitious plans for reform. The UK believes that Uzbekistan has a great future, and is looking forward to strengthening our relationship yet further in the years to come.
After his speech Ambassador Allan took questions from journalists.