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New Uzbekistan’s Reform Agenda: A Catalyst for Stronger US Bilateral Relations

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New Uzbekistan’s Reform Agenda: A Catalyst for Stronger US Bilateral Relations

Uzbekistan is a bedrock U.S. partner in a dynamic region.

New Uzbekistan’s Reform Agenda: A Catalyst for Stronger US Bilateral Relations
Credit: Depositphotos

As the United States elevates its presence and strategic partnerships in key arenas of the world such as Central Asia, it’s imperative for U.S. policymakers and the court of public opinion to look to Uzbekistan as a bedrock partner in the region. 

Since 2016, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has led an ambitious nation-state transformation initiative that is building “New Uzbekistan” – an enlightened and evolved country that embraces the principles of democracy, human rights, and market-driven policies. This ongoing transformation has not been easy, but since 2016, Uzbekistan has undergone ambitious reforms, including the adoption of a new constitution, a new law on religious freedom, the criminalization of domestic violence, and efforts to enhance the protection of private property with a focus on economic development, to name a few. These significant developments have not only transformed the country’s internal landscape for the better, but also bolstered its critical relationships with key allies and partners, specifically the United States.

U.S. Engagement is Core to A New Uzbekistan 

As the New Uzbekistan continues to take shape, the Biden administration has welcomed and supported this constellation of democratic and market reforms, which has yielded an enhanced and comprehensive strategic partnership. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during his visit to Uzbekistan in March 2023, said that “we’re expanding opportunity by supporting the full implementation of President Mirziyoyev’s reform agenda. The progress that Uzbekistan has made on labor rights shows just how transformative that agenda can be.”

U.S. President Joe Biden’s letter to Mirziyoyev, in anticipation of the forthcoming historic C5+1 Summit, initially inaugurated in 2015 in Samarkand, underscores ongoing reforms as a testament to the deepening of bilateral relations between Uzbekistan and the United States. Biden keenly emphasized our strategic partnership, one that has been fortified through trade and investment ties, the enhancement of our security cooperation, and joint efforts to tackle regional challenges. “The United States steadfastly supports efforts to implement political and economic reforms,” stressed Biden. Additionally, he was exceptionally supportive of Uzbekistan’s pioneering reforms in gender-based and domestic violence, as well as in the advancement of women’s and children’s rights.

The reforms in Uzbekistan have created new opportunities for cooperation between Uzbekistan and the United States. The annual political consultations have been elevated to a Strategic Partnership Dialogue, advancing closer and stronger cooperation. This year, we conducted more than 20 reciprocal visits of high-ranking delegations, as well as over 150 interagency contacts.

Our engagement with U.S. Congress has been equally robust. Following a state visit by Mirziyoyev in May 2018, the Congressional Uzbekistan Caucus has significantly expanded, and this year alone, over 10 delegations from the Uzbek parliament have visited the U.S. to promote and strengthen relations through dialogue, trade, investment, education, and people-to-people connections. We’ve also recently welcomed numerous congressional delegations. The recent visit of Senator Gary Peters to Uzbekistan is a recognition of the growing importance of the bilateral relationship. Peters met with Mirziyoyev and other senior officials to discuss a range of issues, including security, trade, and investment. We anticipate more delegations from Capitol Hill in the upcoming months, including a Ways and Means Committee delegation to focus on advancing the bilateral economic relationship, including updating members on Uzbekistan’s World Trade Organization (WTO) accession efforts.

Human Rights Inspiring Growth in U.S.-Uzbekistan Economic Ties

Since 2016, Uzbekistan has tirelessly worked to ensure that human and worker rights remain the foundation for reforms. We have made dramatic progress.  For example, the international Cotton Campaign recently lifted its decades-long boycott of Uzbek cotton. This historic move is set to lead the way for the growth of the textile industry within the country, and foster partnerships with prominent U.S. brands and retailers. Ensuring that forced and child labor are not welcome in Uzbekistan is only the beginning of a comprehensive reform agenda that aims to radically transform Uzbekistan and Central Asia. Among these structural reforms are the liberalization of key sectors, the improvement of the business environment, the cultivation of market relations, and the reinforcement of the legal and institutional framework for the protection of private property. 

New Uzbekistan’s unwavering dedication to fostering a business-friendly environment supported by rule of law has resulted in increased trade and investment with the United States. The number of American companies operating in Uzbekistan has doubled in the past six years, and overall goods and services trade with the U.S. has tripled during the same time span. Indeed, iconic U.S. companies such as Caterpillar, John Deere, CNH Industrial, General Electric, Hilton, and Delphos International have increased their investment footprint in Uzbekistan, including Air Products’ $1 billion investment and wholly owned natural gas-to-syngas processing facility in Qashqadaryo Province.

Another excellent illustration of how economic reforms have enhanced business-to-business connections is the IT sector. In the first half of 2023, the volume of Uzbekistan’s IT exports increased by 2.7 times compared to the previous year, reaching $145.3 million. This is a significant increase from the previous year, and it is largely due to the growing demand for IT services from the United States. In fact, the U.S. market accounts for 45 percent of Uzbekistan’s IT exports.

Capacity Building Programs with the U.S. 

New Uzbekistan’s priority of human interests first has paved the way for numerous joint programs with the U.S. aimed at improving the lives of ordinary Uzbeks. We are partnering with prominent U.S. agencies and NGOs such USAID, American Councils, the United States Institute of Peace, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, and others to incorporate global standards; proliferate American expertise in promoting religious freedom; safeguard freedom of expression and the press; execute justice reforms and anti-corruption policies; uphold the rule of law; and advance English education in Uzbekistan’s public schools. There are plans in the works to resume the Peace Corps’ full-fledged mission to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is also making strides in advancing women’s and children’s rights. In collaboration with the U.S. State Department, efforts are being made to promote gender equality, eradicate poverty, and foster inclusive economic growth through numerous trainings, roundtables, exchanges, and joint projects. Moreover, through a united effort involving the government of Uzbekistan, civil society, and global partners like the U.S. and EU, a law has been passed in Tashkent criminalizing domestic violence. This landmark legislation places Uzbekistan among the forefront of Eastern European and Central Asian countries to define domestic violence as an independent criminal offense.

New Uzbekistan’s growing strategic partnership with the United States will ensure peace, security, and prosperity in Central Asia. This dynamic relationship deserves greater attention and serves as a reminder that we have to work together.