[Forbes.kz] Exclusive Interview with Ambassador Moser

F: What is the United States doing to help Kazakhstan and the region combat the spread of Covid-19?

The global pandemic known as coronavirus, or COVID-19, is one of the major challenges of our time and it will take a global response to defeat it. The United States has rapidly mobilized unprecedented resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including by making available on March 26 nearly $274 million in emergency health and humanitarian funding. That funding will provide resources to 64 of the world’s most at-risk countries to better combat the pandemic, including here in Central Asia. In fact, USAID just announced that $110 million from the International Disaster Assistance Account will be provided to at-risk countries through multilateral organizations and implementing partners to support humanitarian assistance needs resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. Kazakhstan has been identified as a high-priority country to receive funding.

I want to emphasize that the United States will continue to take action to combat the pandemic. This funding is an initial investment, on top of continuing funding to multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Another $1.25 billion, provided by our congress and signed into law by President Trump, is on the way to help countries around the world. Along with the U.S. private sector, the American people continue to lead in responding to this pandemic.

The funding builds upon decades of U.S. leadership in global health and humanitarian assistance. Since 2009, the United States has generously funded more than $100 billion in health assistance and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance globally.

In addition, I want to stress how closely the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls continues to work with the Ministry of Health here, as well as the continuing assistance from USAID, including the delivery on March 17 of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the City Center for Ambulance Services in Nur-Sultan.

F: Ambassador Moser, you have served in many other countries before 2019. It’s not your first time in Kazakhstan. We remember that you also worked at the U.S. Embassy when it was in Almaty. How has your time working in the capital city here in Kazakhstan been going since you started? What is your overall impression of the country?

Yes, it’s true that this is not my first time in Kazakhstan. I worked at the U.S. Embassy when it was located in Almaty about 25 years ago. I was incredibly excited that I would be able to return to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan because I had such a wonderful experience during my previous time in this country. Since returning, as Ambassador, I have had the opportunity to see, first-hand, how your country has developed so much since its independence. Kazakhstanis are truly an amazing people. And the capital has changed so much in that time as well! Now having been here for just over a year, I can say that the opportunities I’ve had as Ambassador to travel and see your great country continue to impress me. It is an honor to be living and working in Kazakhstan.

F:  There were new agreements signed between President Nazarbayev and President Trump back in 2018. Based on these agreements, what has been implemented so far and what is expected to be implemented?

I’m happy to speak about agreements between the United States and Kazakhstan and what this means for cooperation and partnership between our two countries. Firstly, it is important to reiterate that then-President Nazarbayev’s White House meeting with President Trump in January 2018 was, and still is, a clear indication of the strength of our enhanced strategic partnership with Kazakhstan. To build upon this enhanced partnership, U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross visited Kazakhstan in October 2018, which is a major milestone and demonstrates the dedication and sincerity with which both of our nations wish to continue to move our relationship forward.

In 2018, the two Presidents endorsed a far-reaching agenda through which our two countries are working together to strengthen regional security, spur technological innovation, accelerate the growth of commerce and enterprise, and expand access to higher education, including in the English language.

President Tokayev has outlined an ambitious reform agenda, which is aimed at strengthening economic prosperity and democracy while increasing public confidence in the government. We welcome these steps.

In addition, the Trump Administration recently published a new Central Asia strategy which places Kazakhstan’s independence and prosperity at the core of our approach. We fully support Kazakhstan’s freedom to choose to do business with whichever country it wishes. Of course, we are confident that countries achieve the best outcomes when they partner with American companies, such as fair deals, local job creation, transparency in contracts, and an unsurpassed commitment to quality work.

As an example of our partnership on agreements, we’re pleased to have recently signed an Open Skies civil air transportation agreement that will create opportunities not just for airlines, but for multiple industries in both of our nations.

We also concluded a General Security of Information Agreement (GSOIA), enabling the United States and Kazakhstan to better share information and technology related to critical regional security issues. This agreement strengthens our cooperation to ensure safety and security for the people of both countries, as well as the wider region.

F: In general, the political and economic ties between Kazakhstan and the United States began in the early 1990s. What is the volume of U.S. investments in Kazakhstan to date? What areas do U.S. businesses invest in and have the number of businesses grown?

Since Kazakhstan’s independence, U.S. companies have brought in over $30 billion in foreign direct investment. Much of this investment has been in the oil and gas industry, but American companies also operate in many of Kazakhstan’s economic sectors, including agriculture, information and communications technology, mining, power generation, transportation, tourism, and professional services. The American Chamber of Commerce (or AmCham) has over 200 members, and the number continues to grow. It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S. business community has laid the foundation for the growing partnership between our two great nations.

In the energy sector, great American companies like Chevron and ExxonMobil continue to invest in Kazakhstan’s future. They hire Kazakhstani citizens, help Kazakhstan export its natural resources, and take great care to protect and preserve your nation’s beautiful environment.

Promoting regional economic connectivity is a key priority of U.S. foreign assistance in Kazakhstan. USAID programs seek to improve transport and logistics to enhance trade links between Kazakhstan and its neighbors. This November, USAID partnered with the Government of Kazakhstan to host the regional Central Asian Trade Forum in Shymkent, bringing together over 500 business leaders to form new partnerships and discuss ways of promoting trade and prosperity.

Partnerships like these are beneficial for both of our countries, and they’re the best way for Kazakhstan to increase its prosperity, strengthen its connections to the regional economy, and bolster its connection with the world economy. We want to help Kazakhstan grow and prosper – this is what friends do.

F:  How have joint projects implemented since Kazakhstan’s independence affected the economy of Kazakhstan and the U.S.? What are the results?

American companies have engaged in joint projects with other investors in all three of Kazakhstan’s great oilfields, resulting in enormous economic benefits to Kazakhstan. For example, TengizChevrOil alone has paid over $143 billion to Kazakhstani companies and employees. In addition, the oil companies don’t just benefit Kazakhstan’s business sectors, they also contribute to Kazakhstan’s social infrastructure. For example, Kashagan Petroleum Operating has spent more than $390 million on local projects designated and directed by the West Kazakhstan Akimat. As a long-term example spanning a period of two decades, the North Caspian Operating Company has spent about $263 million on job skills and professional training to create and develop local capacity for the Kashagan project.

I want to make clear that not all foreign investment is equal. For example, almost 100% of U.S. investment in Kazakhstan is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), meaning that the investment is long-term and directly benefits Kazakhstani workers and consumers. When U.S. businesses make foreign investments, they not only follow local law, but also adhere to U.S. law regarding their conduct overseas. U.S. Businesses create high-quality projects with local partners, which creates local jobs.

As an example of the U.S. commitment to promote transparent, sustainable, high quality, private sector-led infrastructure development around the world, we recently helped launch the Blue Dot Network, a branding certification mechanism that will distinguish infrastructure projects that meet international quality standards.

F: What is the level of trade turnover between Kazakhstan and the U.S.? How does the Kazakhstan-American Business Association, which marks its 20th anniversary, help to increase it? What is the future of business connection and business directions?

While trade has fluctuated since the early 1990s, as trade usually does, the total amount of U.S.-Kazakhstan trade in 2018 was $2.1 billion USD, which is an increase of 60% from 2017. In addition, Kazakhstani exports to the U.S. totaled $1.4 billion USD, which is an increase of 75% from 2017. The trade numbers for 2019 are not available at this time. Business associations like the AmCham and the U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association are instrumental in helping companies form crucial business-to-business relationships. And these efforts are paying off. We’re very excited that American companies like Tyson Foods and Valmont Industries are exploring projects in Kazakhstan’s agricultural sector. It’s because of deals like this that I believe there is potential for great growth in trade and the future of U.S.-Kazakhstan business is a bright and prosperous one.

F:  The U.S. Government releases reports annually on Kazakhstan’s development indicators. What is the recent trend? What areas would you particularly like to highlight?

In 2019, Kazakhstan fell to the Tier 2 Watchlist in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in part because of the need for legislative changes to counter these challenges. The TIP report calls on governments to respond to all forms of human trafficking with the most comprehensive and effective measures possible.

Just in the past few months, Kazakhstan has made important achievements in this area, such as increasing the punishment for trafficking. The United States is committed to partnering with Kazakhstan in implementing the report’s recommendations. The most urgent recommendations include increasing efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims, particularly foreign and forced labor victims; expanding support for foreign victims; and investigating and prosecuting more TIP crimes. These efforts are achievable but require a whole-of-government effort to change legislation and policies, as well as general attitudes about helping foreign victims.

F:  What is new and innovative in the fields of education and culture? What are the joint projects between Kazakhstan and the U.S. in these fields?

At the heart of the U.S.-Kazakhstan partnership are the people-to-people ties between our two countries. Together, we work across Kazakhstan on things our people care about: helping students get a good education, supporting economic growth, keeping people safe, keeping people healthy, fueling innovation and creativity, and promoting cultural exchanges.

We see bridges being built between Kazakhstan and the United States through film, art, dance, music, education, and discourse for nearly three decades. Through events and programs – such as the annual Go Viral Festival, and the 48 Hour Film Race, just to name a few. We are pleased to bring U.S. filmmakers, musicians, entrepreneurs, educators, innovative thinkers, and artists to Kazakhstan to promote mutual understanding and the exchange of ideas.

Of course, English is the language of the global economy, and a necessity for Kazakhstan’s long-term economic growth. The United States and Kazakhstan are working together to help Kazakhstan realize its ambitious goal to become a fully trilingual society by 2030. We are fully committed to this effort and have ramped up our support by investing over $1 million in English language grants annually.

Annually, the Mission actively facilitates an estimated 350 exchanges for students and professionals across every sector, not including the over 2,000 students who spend a season in the United States on Summer Work Travel as well as an estimated 1,800 more who study in America, often receiving educational advising from our Mission to guide their career and educational goals.

One of the ways we connect with people across Kazakhstan is through our national network of 11 American Corners and MakerSpaces. Anyone can visit our American Corners and find innovative programming, a variety of activities, resources for English language learning, or just a place to relax, hang out, and meet new friends.

F: Please, tell us about the Alumni programs and Small Grants programs. What is the purpose of these initiatives? Who is participating? What are the outcomes?

Alumni programs are exclusive opportunities for the thousands of Kazakhstanis that were previously engaged in a USG funded academic or professional exchanges. These include, but are not limited to, special events, conferences, and grant opportunities. One of our priorities is to build a network of alumni from these programs and allow them to share ideas and work together on projects that are important to them and for their communities. We don’t want the experience of their exchange program to end when they leave the United States, but rather to enable them to take the skills they learned in the United States and implement them in Kazakhstan.

The Annual Small Grants Program is designed to support civil society in Kazakhstan and advance the interests and will of Kazakhstani citizens. Grants are given for non-profit organizations to realize different social projects which foster the strengthening of basic human and community values. We hope that this support will benefit Kazakhstan in further becoming a more open, transparent, tolerant, inclusive state, which promotes freedom of speech and rule-of-law. Last year, I visited an Inclusive Resource Center in Petropavl which is aimed towards making this school more accessible for disabled schoolchildren. Another example of the excellent programs the Small Grants Program supports is the Women’s Shelter in Stepnogorsk for victims of domestic violence, which supports victims through a difficult period in their lives.

F:  The United States supported the “Jusan” humanitarian operation. As a result, mothers and children have returned to the country and have been receiving rehabilitation. In your opinion, how can Kazakhstan’s initiative and experience be useful to other countries?

Thank you for this question. The United States greatly appreciates the constructive leadership Kazakhstan has demonstrated on the global stage. This included its two-year term in the United Nations Security Council, the first for a Central Asian nation; its deployment of UN peacekeepers to Lebanon; and its repatriation of Kazakhstani citizens from war zones in the Middle East, the vast majority of them women and children. We also appreciate the role Kazakhstan plays in regional security and development issues, particularly with respect to Afghanistan.

The “Zhusan” operation was a model for other nations. Secretary Pompeo has commended Kazakhstan for its leadership on this issue, and we have been working to facilitate the exchange of best practices between Kazakhstan and other countries on both repatriations, as well as the difficult, long-term task of rehabilitating and reintegrating returnees. The United States is committed to help in this endeavor. For example, last summer, through our C5+1 platform, we convened a conference in Bishkek in which Kazakhstani participants had the opportunity to tell their regional counterparts about the programs they have set up to address the needs of returnees. Likewise, in December, we worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convene a Strong Cities Network conference in Almaty focused on the same theme.

Let me reiterate Secretary Pompeo’s praise regarding the progress the C5+1 has made in cooperating to address terrorism and radical Islamist extremism, among other successes. Kazakhstan’s early and frequent leadership within the group has helped make that possible.

F:  What results do you expect from the Astana International Financial Center established in the capital city? How will this institution impact Kazakhstan’s economy and financial market?

The AIFC is an innovative approach to attracting and protecting foreign investors, and we know a number of U.S. companies have partnered with the AIFC. We are watching the AIFC’s development with great interest, particularly how the Center will work in practice. 

We welcome Kazakhstan’s efforts to attract more foreign direct investment into the country. The key to bringing in foreign direct investment is creating a business climate that is welcoming to investors, and that is what the AIFC aims to do. Ultimately, its success will depend on the ability of Kazakhstan to create a favorable investment climate across a number of dimensions that are important to investors.

F:  How do you spend your free time in Nur-Sultan? Are there any cafes and restaurants nearby? What do you prefer to do for rest and recreation?

It’s hard to pick a favorite! I really enjoy many of the cafes and restaurants across the entirety of your fine city. Many of the dishes that are served here are very flavorful. I’ll tell you what I really like. I really like many of the beef dishes that are served here. Did you know that many of the cattle in Kazakhstan are descended from Angus cows imported from the United States? Many people do not realize that some of the best beef regions of the United States are very similar to Kazakhstan, so both our countries are ideally suited to produce great steaks. It gives me great pride to have such a tasty partnership between the United States and Kazakhstan.

F: Along with English, you do speak Russian, German, and French. Do you plan to learn Kazakh as well?

Of course! I am taking lessons and learning the Kazakh language. Today’s Kazakhstan is vastly different from the one I knew in the 1990s. I have personally witnessed the growth in use and popularity of the Kazakh language, especially among younger generations. When I served in Almaty more than twenty years ago, I rarely heard Kazakh spoken on the street. Today, I see that Kazakh is becoming the language of daily communication among citizens. I joke that I learned my Russian from Almaty taxi drivers, but I am definitely doing my best to learn Kazakh from my teacher at the Embassy.