Kazakhstan to assist Kyrgyzstan to join Customs Union

By Elena Kosolapova

Kyrgyzstan may become a new member of the Customs Union in the near future. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev promised to help in removing existing barriers to join this organization. Kazakhstan is one of Kyrgyzstan's major political and economic partners.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev for the first time paid the official visit to Kazakhstan on May 10. The process of Kyrgyzstan's joining the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus was one of the issues at the negotiations with Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The talks about Kyrgyzstan's possible accession to the Customs Union have been held for a long time. The government of the Republic made a request to join the Customs Union in the spring of 2011. The Republic's desire to join the organization is clear. Besides the economic feasibility, this step will provide Kyrgyzstan with favor and full support from Kazakhstan and Russia.

Kyrgyzstan experienced two revolutions from 2005 to 2010. Today's authorities are also quite vulnerable. The rallies of those dissatisfied are regularly held in towns across the country. At present, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in the region because of long-term political instability and lack of significant natural resources. Moreover, the geographical situation of the country requires a strong military force, which will be capable of defending the country against drug trafficking and the flow of extremists from Afghanistan. All these circumstances make the Kyrgyz leadership to search for reliable allies who can help solve these problems. Russia and Kazakhstan are well suited for this role. The Kyrgyz economy is now greatly tied to the support of these countries. Supplies of fuel, defense, engineering are not all areas in which Kyrgyzstan depends on
Russia and Kazakhstan. Joining the Customs Union will definitely expand this support.

Kyrgyzstan's accession to the Customs Union can be also beneficial for Kazakhstan and especially for Russia because it will expand their economic and political influence in the region.

However, this issue has a lot of pitfalls. First, it is still unclear how Kyrgyzstan, as a WTO member today, intends to combine this with participation in the Customs Union. Second, the transition to unified customs tariffs, envisaged by the charter of the Customs Union, will definitely be a strong blow to the Kyrgyz economy. The prices increased even in Kazakhstan and Belarus, where the standard of living is not much lower than in Russia, after the formation of the Customs Union. But unification of tariffs can be a serious blow for Kyrgyzstan, which economy is only beginning to develop. However, it is possible for Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to help Kyrgyzstan and provide it with some preferences at the first stage.
Taking into account the interest of all members of the Customs Union in its expansion due to Kyrgyzstan, there is no doubt that this will happen sooner or later.