Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis

Speech at the EU-Central Asia Dialogue on Partnership for Prosperity

Brussels, 7 December 2020

Good morning Excellencies, Deputy Prime Ministers, Vice-President Czerwińska, colleagues, dear friends,

Let me begin by saying that we are very happy to have this timely opportunity to engage with you.

The European Union attaches great importance to cooperation with Central Asia.

Over the past decade, we have strengthened our cooperation with the region.

In the past seven years, the European Commission has provided over EUR 1 billion in development assistance to Central Asia to support the development of a sustainable and productive business environment.

The EU-Central Asia strategy of 2019 provides the basic guidelines for our engagement.

Looking forward, we want our relationship to become stronger in the coming decade.

2020 has been a very challenging year for all of us, and we hope that 2021 will bring better fortune.

Both Europe and Central Asia have been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have to make every effort to ensure that economic recovery is as wide as possible.

EU solidarity with Central Asia was expressed through a Covid-19 crisis response package worth over EUR 134 million.

Now we must develop our strategies for exiting the pandemic and restoring economic growth.

In Central Asian countries, strained public finances, and the risk of stalled reforms to support private sector development, can adversely affect economic recovery.

This is the right moment to work on a sustainable recovery, building inclusive and resilient growth models.

Diversifying economies to reduce their reliance on commodities and remittances will be important.

In the EU, our ambitious recovery plan aims to “build back better”, by ensuring that our economic recovery has the green and digital transitions at its heart.

At least 30% of funding under this plan should go to climate-related spending, consistent with our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

My colleague, Vice-President Šefčovič, will speak to you about this in greater detail.

Climate change is a challenge that we all must face, working together.

In this respect, we strongly encourage you, our partners in Central Asia, to put in place ambitious policies to drive the transition to a net zero emissions economy.

In the first quarter of 2021, the Commission will present a renewed sustainable finance strategy.

This will contain a wide array of policies designed to have a systemic impact on our financial systems and economies.

The Commission will also seek to foster the euro’s status as an international currency in the energy and commodities sectors. And we are looking for stronger engagement with Central Asian countries on increasing use of the euro in our trade and economic relations.

Going forward, we want to work with our partners in Central Asia to support your transition to a more sustainable growth model.

Some important steps to support the success of this transition include: strengthening regulatory frameworks, improving customs and border procedures, and tackling corruption and economic fraud.

It is equally important to support the private sector, including SMEs.

Now, moving to trade and investment policy.

Free and fair trade will be an important driver for post-COVID recovery.

A meaningful global economic rebound will require strong and relevant global institutions.

The EU therefore maintains its support for the rules-based multilateral system and its institutions, in line with our fundamental commitment to an open global economy.

In particular, we remain committed to deep reform of the World Trade Organisation, and this will be a key trade policy priority for us in the coming year.

Over the past few years, EU trade relations with the region have developed positively around three angles:

  • work on the modernisation of partnership and cooperation agreements;
  • the benefits provided by the EU generalised scheme of preferences; and
  • making progress on WTO accession for countries that are not yet members.

The EU's GSP acts as an incentive to implement international conventions on human rights, good governance and the environment.

Our partnership agreements also aim to ensure a clear commitment to environmental and labour protection.

We welcome the continued interest in the GSP+ scheme among current and potential future beneficiaries.

The GSP and enhanced partnership and cooperation agreements are an opportunity to support recovery in the region and help to build a more sustainable future.

The EU used this opportunity to launch a review of our trade and investment policy in order to make it fit for current realities and prepare for future challenges. 

Our revised policy will have to look at:

  • how to deliver on our sustainability goals;
  • how to create opportunities for companies, especially SMEs;
  • and how to ensure that EU companies are treated fairly in third countries and at home.

This means that we will strengthen enforcement actions and a level-playing field.

And we will address coercive, distortive and unfair trading practices by third countries, either by strengthening existing tools or by developing new ones.

We will adopt a Communication on a fresh medium-term direction for EU trade policy in early 2021, addressing these and many other themes.

To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, we are grateful for this opportunity to engage with you today, and we remain committed to strengthening the economic and political cooperation between the EU and Central Asia.

We look forward to a future EU-Central Asia Economic Forum, which we hope can take place already next year.

Thank you very much.