Hudson Sandler team TIIF

Is The New Uzbekistan taking off?

The Hudson Sandler team in Uzbekistan supporting the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Trade (MIIT) at the third Tashkent International Investment Forum (TIIF), May 2024.

Last week I was honoured to moderate a panel at Tashkent’s increasingly important International Investment Forum (“TIIF”). With more than 2,500 participants from 93 countries, the event now attracts representatives from a large swathe of global business as well as leading investment institutions, all attracted to a country positioning itself as ‘The Big Country with Big Opportunities’.

But how big is the country and how big the opportunities?

In terms of geographic size Uzbekistan matches California, but in population terms the country dwarfs its neighbours: with a population of almost 40 million (compared to Kazakhstan’s 20 million, Kyrgyzstan’s 7 million and Tajikistan’s 10 million). Moreover, Uzbekistan is a country with many sound fundamentals which appeal to investors on the lookout for opportunities – from a prudent fiscal and monetary stance, with low debt and strong reserves, to a very young demographic comprising a highly educated workforce (particularly strong in STEM subjects and languages) to the country’s truly enviable geographic location, which renders it a vital link between East Asia and Western Europe as well as the Gulf.

In terms of the opportunities Uzbekistan presents, their bedrock is President Mirziyoyev’s reform programme pursued over the last seven years, which includes the liberalisation of capital movements, the ending of trade restrictions and the implementation of institutional reforms designed to make Uzbekistan’s business environment transparent and welcoming. In his speech, the President repeatedly emphasised that these reforms were “irreversible”. The Government is also working to join the WTO, with membership anticipated over the coming years.

The results of this programme are already evident: over $70 billion of FDI attracted to the country over the last five years and strong growth underpinning significant enhancements in GDP per head, as the Government aims to build a middle-income economy by 2030. Stand out sectors for inward investment include renewables, agribusiness and information technology. Perhaps a strategic communications and sustainability consulting ecosystem can emerge in the country – Hudson Sandler opened a Tashkent office two years ago and is working there with a raft of blue chip private sector players as well as sovereign entities.

But what of the all-important vibe I identified last week? Firstly, Uzbek people are amongst the friendliest I have ever met: passionate about connecting with the outside world and determined to succeed. Secondly, the Government is proving to be single-minded in cultivating a stable investment environment, appearing to be genuinely receptive to the concerns of those they want to see invested in the country. And finally, this is a country with an immensely rich history and cultural landscape, boasting the historic silk road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva – all of them iconic world heritage sites. The tourism opportunity is enormous, as my family will experience next year!

Two weeks ago, I attended the AmCham summit in Nairobi, and it really did feel like Kenya is poised for breakthrough – a leader in its region. I detected the same atmosphere in Tashkent. It really does feel like Uzbekistan is also poised for economic transformation too, as South Korea experienced in the 1950s and India is undergoing now. Like Kenya, this Central Asian country has all the necessary ingredients to make a success of “The New Uzbekistan”. As Franklin Templeton recently declared: “The stars seem aligned for Uzbekistan to shine on the radar of global investors”. I would wholeheartedly agree.

Andrew Hayes
Managing Partner