India-Uzbekistan relations on growth path

While S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs, India landed in Uzbekistan yesterday to participate in the connectivity conference he will surely review the amplified opportunities between the two countries which are ever-growing for the last few years. The visit of the Minister marks the continuation of the strong historical, cultural and bilateral relations which the two countries already share since time immemorial.

With the origin of the founder of the Mughal empire in 1483 in Uzbekistan, to the travel of of the renowned poet Mirza Ghalib, in Samarkand, it is clear that India and Uzbekistan do share a common and rich legacy and history going back to the days of the ancient Silk Road. In the last few years, India and Uzbekistan have embarked on a mission to forge a relationship around economic, strategic, humanitarian, and cultural aspects.

Currently, the five republics namely Kazakhstan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are in the nascent stages of nation building as they are stepping out of the shadows of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Amongst these, Uzbekistan’s geography makes it stand out. It is the only country that shares borders with the other four Central Asian countries and is rich in oil and natural gas resources. The revenue earned from oil and natural gas has helped this second-largest Central Asian state to become a financially stable economy. Its close economic ties with Russia, China and Europe have also brought in immense benefits to the country. Uzbekistan is poised to achieve more prosperity as it has recently decided to open its economy for international ties.

Uzbekistan is rich in coal, plutonium, and gold reserves. Not just that, it is the world’s largest uranium exporter. The region can also be a potential hub of investments for India as it is replete with natural resources like natural gas.

Uzbekistan’s cotton industry is another area that can woo the Indian investors. India and Uzbekistan already have a robust trading relationship, with the latter exporting vegetables, fruits, lubricants, fertilizers, utilities and juice products and extracts. Medical tourism is also an important part of the ties between the two nations. Every year, approximately 8,000 Uzbeks travel to India for medical treatments. Uzbekistan has also given India the status of most favoured nation (MFN).

The healthy ties between the two nations are all set to enter a new era, with Uzbekistan wooing India’s IT and innovation industry. In 2019, the world got a glimpse of this new chapter in the relationship between the two countries, when a maiden Uzbek-Indian IT and Innovation Forum was held in Tashkent. The idea was to understand and identify areas of mutual interest and benefit in the IT sphere.

India is currently the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world, home to 21 unicorns valued at $73.2 billion. Post Covid 19 times, India’s new start-ups in EdTech, Fintech and Artificial Intelligence etc. are looking to expand beyond India, and with India’s push at a knowledge based and digital economy, ties with Uzbekistan can play a critical role.

To cater to Uzbekistan’s ambitious transformation project kickstarted in 2016, Indian startups and the related ecosystem have a lot to offer. Initiatives like Startup India that catalyse the startup culture, build an innovative and entrepreneurial start up scene that drives economic growth coupled with govt led finance schemes, access to private equity and venture capital funds can be the first order of the day.

The real opportunity however lies in bridging the gap, enabling collaboration between startups, investors, incubators, and aspiring entrepreneurs of both countries and provide them requisite resources for market entry and expansion. Besides this India can also offer its expertise in the higher education sector by breeding a strong culture of innovation at the grassroots and also impactful industry-academia alliances.

Uzbekistan’s own aim to foster innovation as a driver of economic growth and join the top 50 countries in the Global Innovation Index by 2030 sets the stage for an innovation hub in the country with the backing of the massive Indian startup and ER&D ecosystem and its deep connect within the Silicon Valley.

Next gen technologies being developed in India like AI, blockchain, IOT, cognitive computing, big data, analytics, robotics etc. are being backed by investments and knowledge flow by global tech leaders based in Silicon Valley.

Uzbekistan will need India’s proven culture of innovation, startup ecosystem and amplification of IT power houses. Uzbekistan will further need ample (if expensive) talent, plenty of funding, top-notch resources for developing and scaling a company, liquidation opportunities, strong network of mentors and advisors and the right set of policies, frameworks and guidelines and not to mention a strong collaborative culture between intellectual capital, academia and industry. This is where India’s deep and wide connects within the Silicon Valley and its own vibrant ecosystem capabilities can come in handy.

Starting from the flow of people, talent, ideas, investments, expertise and best practices, India has a lot to offer like teaching 21 century skills, setting up innovation labs, incubators, accelerators, facilitating the flow of intellect, experts, and mentors etc.

Apart from this what is required to further grow the relations between the two countries is the initiative on the part of its citizens to promote investments and growth of businesses in every way possible.

One such initiative is the India Uzbekistan Investment Corridor (IUIC).

IUIC was jointly inaugurated by both the ambassadors together, namely, the Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan to India, His excellency, Mr. Dilshod Akhatov and the Ambassador of India to the republic of Uzbekistan, His Excellency, Mr. Manish Prabhat, signifying country to country tie up, as well as people to people tie up. The main aim of IUIC is thus to promote national investment in both the countries, as well as act as the first point of reference for investors of both the countries.

The Conference held on June 10th 2021, saw the participation from various leaders/CEOs/lawyers from India as well as Uzbekistan, showcasing a shining example of the development cooperation being initiated by the citizens of the two countries.

It is hence a very exciting opportunity for taking the historical India-Uzbekistan relationship to the next level by India strategically partnering with Uzbekistan. It is thus rightly said that ‘With a good perspective on history, we can have a better understanding of the past and the present, and thus a clear vision of the future!’ Both the countries thus now embark on a new journey in their strategic partnership.

Inputs by Sudhir Mishra and Gireesh Gupta

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