Kazakhstan is a nation of vast natural resources boasting an economy that is larger than those of all the other Central Asian states combined. This is largely due to the country’s enormous fossil fuel reserves and plentiful supplies of other minerals and metals. It also has a large agricultural sector featuring livestock and grain. Other major factors for Kazakhstan’s significant and steady economic growth for the past decade include its quickly developing energy sector, economic reforms, good harvests, increased foreign investment and recent political stability. Still, Kazakhstan’s economy has been negatively impacted by the world economic crisis and the nation faces a number of challenges ahead.
Kazakhstan’s export value has been raised by the opening of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium in 2001 that runs from western Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oilfield to the Black Sea. Furthermore, in 2006, Kazakhstan completed the Atasu-Alashankou portion of construction for its oil pipeline to China that will extend from the country’s Caspian coast eastward to the Chinese border when it is completed. However, the country has also implemented an industrial policy that aims to diversify the economy away from overdependence on the oil sector by developing one in manufacturing. As part of this policy, tax laws have been altered to favour domestic industry in favour of foreign investment and presence.
Kazakhstan maintains stable relationships with its neighbours and is a member of the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Kazakhstan has identified a number of major ecological problems in its territories and worked with foreign nations and organizations to establish an NPO, Regional Environmental Center (REC) in Almaty in 2001. Radioactive or toxic chemical sites of the former defence industry and testing ranges throughout the country pose health risks to humans and animals. The two rivers that lead to the Aral Sea have been diverted for irrigation, leaving behind a harmful layer of chemical pesticides and natural salts that are picked up by the wind and blown into poisonous dust storms.