Italy intensifies its relations with Uzbekistan and promotes its strategy in Central Asia

Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sardor Umurzakov met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, Luigi Di Maio (Credits: CC BY 4.0, Ministerstvo investiciy i vneshney torgovli Respubliki Uzbekistan)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 19 Issue 15
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi

Italy recently discussed further cooperation with Uzbekistan, showing Rome’s attempt to play a more influential role in Central Asia by being engaged in a strategic market where Italian companies might export their know-how and products while the Italian authorities might diversify trade and energy imports.

On May 27th, 2022, in Rome, Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sardor Umurzakov met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, Luigi Di Maio. The meeting became an opportunity to review the current state of Uzbek-Italian relations and develop measures to strengthen them further. Discussing the broad agenda of Uzbek-Italian cooperation, the parties paid particular attention to efforts to increase further investment, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation.[1]

Positive results were noted in the development of mutual trade: at the end of 2021, the trade volume between Uzbekistan and Italy increased by 25%. Growth trends were also observed in the first quarter of this year due to an increase in the supply of textiles, food, leather goods, equipment and other goods. The parties considered further joint actions to increase bilateral trade and agreed to intensify work in this direction.

The number of enterprises with Italian capital operating in Uzbekistan has doubled over the past five years, covering such new areas as the mining sector, metallurgy, petrochemical and electrical industries, and the production of building materials. The two delegations emphasised the relevance of continuing work to bring the two countries’ business circles closer and attract Italian investments and technologies to implement projects in Uzbekistan.

The Italian and Uzbek parties also touched upon interaction issues in the energy sector, regional cooperation, and measures to prepare for holding bilateral events, including the regular meeting of the Uzbek-Italian Intergovernmental Working Group on Trade, Economic and Industrial Cooperation.

After exchanging views on key issues on the bilateral partnership agenda, the parties reached agreements on further cooperation, which will make it possible to make significant progress in the implementation of joint projects and initiatives.

Geopolitical scenario

Central Asia has always played a strategic role in the Eurasian chessboard. International and regional powers have tried to influence the region by adopting different military, economic, political, and humanitarian strategies.

The Russian Federation plays an essential role in the region since the Kremlin considers Central Asia as part of its blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad) and lebensraum (vital space) inherited from the Tsarist and Soviet past. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly after Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, Moscow has tried to extend its influence in Central Asia by establishing military bases and promoting business, political and cultural cooperation.

The People’s Republic of China is also hugely active in Central Asia because this area is a logistic hub of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. In this regard, China has invested copious financial funds to support infrastructural projects, improve the transport system and increase regional stability and security.[2]

The recent visit to Central Asia of the U.S. Undersecretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu highlighted that Washington has still interests in the region. The U.S. diplomat started his trip on May 24th, 2022, and paid an official visit to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, leading a delegation that included the Pentagon and the U.S. representatives National Security Council.[3] Although Donald Lu’s visit might be connected with the recent Ukraine conflict and Washington’s attempt to break the link between Russia and Central Asian republics, the U.S. delegation visit to the region underlined the White House’s foreign policy in the region aimed at curbing Chinese and Russian presence and interests and controlling an area connected with influential regional players such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India.[4]

The European Union has invested more resources and time in developing cooperation and partnerships with Central Asian republics since the region might support Brussels in diversifying its energy import and decreasing the European dependence on Russian natural gas. Recently, on May 17th, 2022, it was held the EU-Central Asia High-Level Dialogue on Politics and Security in Brussels attended by deputy heads of foreign affairs agencies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and the Deputy Secretary-General, Political Director of the European External Action Service. Enrique Mora. The parties touched upon cooperation issues on common security challenges, including the situation in Afghanistan, water resources, energy, border management, and trade facilitation.[5]

The Italian-Uzbek relations: a brief overview of recent meetings

Looking the Italian-Uzbekistan relations, the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1992. Since then, Italy and Uzbekistan have cooperated in different fields, confirming their desire to implement their collaboration, particularly in bilateral trade, which is expected to reach 1 billion dollars in the coming years.

During this year, before the meeting between the Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sardor Umurzakov and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy Luigi Di Maio, there were other signs which stressed Rome’s desire to intensify its cooperation and partnership with Tashkent. For instance, in February 2022, there was in Rome a book presentation dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Italian-Uzbek diplomatic relations attended by the First Deputy Director of the Cultural Heritage Agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Uzbekistan, Tursunali Kuziev, and the Italian ambassador in Uzbekistan, Agostino Pinna.[8]

In March 2022, the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent hosted a round table dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and Italy, attended by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Italy to Uzbekistan Agostino Pinna and the First Deputy Chairman of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, Rector of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Sodiq Safoev. During the event, the parties confirmed the good relations between Italy and Uzbekistan and prospected further cooperation in different fields.[9]

On May 10th, 2022, Rome hosted the 7th round of political consultations between Uzbekistan’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Italy. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Gairat Fozilov, led the Uzbek delegation and met the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy Manlio, Di Stefano. Fozilov and Di Stefano paid attention to the issues of enhancing economic diplomacy to increase mutual trade and implement promising joint investment projects and trade contracts.[10]

Conclusion

Italy has recently increased its diplomatic and economic activities in Central Asia, trying to be more involved in local markets and dynamics and promoting cooperation in different fields.

In April 2022, exploiting the anniversary of diplomatic relations with Central Asian republics, Italy evaluated further cooperation with local governments promoting itself as a reliable partner in different fields. Indeed, on April 12th, 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) organised a country presentation for more than 120 Italian companies on the investment and export potential of the country.[6]

On April 21st, 2022, there was an online meeting between Italian and Turkmen representatives to expand cooperation between Italy and Turkmenistan in cultural and scientific fields. During the same week, Italian and Kazakh representatives discussed opportunities to strengthen trade, economic, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation during the meeting between the Akim of Almaty and the Italian ambassador in Kazakhstan.[7]

Italy has a strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea that might be connected to the Eurasian market and the Belt and Road Initiative. Indeed, in March 2019, Italy was the first prominent European country and the first G7 member to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China on the Belt and Road Initiative, highlighting the importance of Eurasia. Since Italy is well-known abroad for its know-how in specific sectors, the Italian Government has tried to diversify its trade exchange and economic strategy, looking at new frontier markets in Eurasia. Apart from France and Germany, Italy might want to find its space among the European Union members and become more active in the Central Asian market because local republics are rich in natural resources and play a decisive role in the Eurasian interconnection.

A significant Italian presence in Uzbekistan, and consequently in Central Asia, also supports the European Union strategy in the region, whose purpose is to focus on resilience (covering areas such as human rights, border security and the environment), prosperity (with a strong emphasis on connectivity) and regional cooperation. In this framework, Uzbekistan might benefit from Italian involvement in its territory, attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) and diversifying its economic and trade partners, thus decreasing Moscow and Beijing’s influence.

By contrast, the recent Ukraine conflict and Western sanctions against the Russian Federation might represent a considerable obstacle for the Italian interests in Central Asia. In addition, the Italian authorities should also consider the geopolitical risk generated by local political crises, such as the recent events in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan[11], security problems coming from the Islamic State’s jihadist propaganda aimed at recruiting foreign fighters in Central Asia.[12], the Afghan crisis’ impact on the region, and the presence and activities of criminal organisations, illicit trafficking, and inter-ethnic conflicts.

Sources

[1] Ministerstvo investiciy i vneshney torgovli Respubliki Uzbekistan (2022) Обсуждены перспективы укрепления узбекско-итальянских отношений (Prospects for strengthening Uzbek-Italian relations discussed). Link: http://mift.uz/ru/news/obsuzhdeny-perspektivy-ukreplenija-uzbeksko-italjanskih-otnoshenij.

[2] Eurasianet (2022) Китай-Центральная Азия: открытие новых маршрутов и стремление к новым связям (China-Central Asia: opening new routes and striving for new ties). Link: https://russian.eurasianet.org/китай-центральная-азия-открытие-новых-маршрутов-и-стремление-к-новым-связям; SpecialEurasia (2022) Central Asian republics’ economic dependence on China. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/02/04/central-asia-china-economy/; SpecialEurasia (2022) China confirms its commitment and strategy in Central Asia. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/01/04/china-strategy-central-asia/.

[3] Eurasia Today (2022) Турне Дональда Лу: США пытаются «вынудить» Центральную Азию определиться с позицией по Украине (Donald Lou tour: US is trying to “force” Central Asia to decide on a position on Ukraine). Link: https://www.eurasiatoday.ru/analytics/9342-турне-дональда-лу-сша-пытаются-«вынудить»-центральную-азию-определиться-со-своей-позицией-по-украине.html.

[4] Silvia Boltuc (2021) Geopolitics of the U.S. strategy in Central Asia, Geopolitical Report 2785-2598, Vol. 13(9), SpecialEurasia. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2021/11/22/us-strategy-central-asia/.

[5] Krasnaya Vesna (2022) ЕС и страны Средней Азии обсудили в Брюсселе вопросы безопасности (EU and Central Asian countries discussed security issues in Brussels). Link: https://rossaprimavera.ru/news/39e70da0.

[6] Silvia Boltuc (2022) Italy discovers business opportunities in Kyrgyzstan, SpecialEurasia. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/04/14/italy-kyrgyzstan-business/.

[7] Vlad Kondratiev (2022) Italy intensifies cultural dialogue with Caspian littoral Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Vol. 18(1), SpecialEurasia. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/04/29/italy-kazakhstan-turkmenistan/.

[8] Planet360.info (2022) В Италии вышла в свет книга об узбекско-итальянских отношениях (Book on Uzbek-Italian relations published in Italy). Link: https://www.planet360.info/ru/2022/02/15/v-italii-vyshla-v-svet-kniga-ob-uzbeksko-italianskih-otnosheniyah/.

[9] UzReport (2022) Дипломатическим отношениям Узбекистана и Италии – 30 лет (Diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and Italy are 30 years old). Link: https://uzreport.news/society/diplomaticheskim-otnosheniyam-uzbekistana-i-italii-30-letttt.

[10] Trend News Agency (2022) Узбекистан и Италия активизируют экономическую дипломатию (Uzbekistan and Italy step up economic diplomacy). Link: https://www.trend.az/casia/uzbekistan/3593681.html.

[11] Giuliano Bifolchi (2022) Political tensions and security threats in Tajikistan, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598, Vol. 19(11), SpecialEurasia. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/05/18/tajikistan-politics-security/.

[12]  Riccardo Valle (2022) Islamic State Khurasan Province threatens Uzbekistan, Central Asia, and neighbouring countries, Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598, Vol. 19(4), SpecialEurasia. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/05/05/islamic-state-uzbekistan/.