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New Europe: UK not to ignore human rights and democracy over energy

Interview with: Paul Brummell
29 June 2007 – Issue : 736
UK ambassador to Kazakhstan Paul Brummell talks to New Europe *

Today, the United Kingdom is the third largest investor into Kazakh economy. The British companies are mainly active in the oil and gas sector, where the United Kingdom has been traditionally strong. However, the current economic policy of Kazakhstan is oriented rather at diversification than at attracting investments. UK ambassador to Kazakhstan Paul Brummell talked to New Europe correspondent in Astana Kulpash Konyrova on the development of the relations between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.

* Ambassador, how would you evaluate the trade and economic cooperation between Kazakhstan and the UK at this stage? What is its potential for further development?

According to the official data of the government of Kazakhstan, the trade turnover between our countries in 2006 has exceeded, for the first time, one billion US dollars. The United Kingdom is the third largest investor into Kazakhstan’s economy. Our expectations are that trade turnover is continuing to develop well both in terms of continuing focus on traditional areas of cooperation, for an example the traditional British strength in the oil and gas sector, but also in new areas of trade cooperation as Kazakhstan’s economy diversifies.

As an example, I was recently in Kostanai oblast where I met the Akim Mr. (Sergey) Kulagin, who told me that the UK has started to buy grain from Kostanai oblast. Presently we are looking at small volumes, as the United Kingdom is not a major grain customer of Kazakhstan, but I see it as an interesting symbol of the fact that we’re purchasing an increasingly diversified range of products from Kazakhstan. As regards British investments in Kazakhstan, we’re seeing increasing activity outside of the oil and gas sector. Again, in Kostanai, I also visited a factory producing straw panels for an “Affordable Housing” programme. This is a project involving a partnership between the technology of the British company Stramit and Kazakhstani partner CIH.

* You have mentioned cooperation in the traditional for Britain oil and gas sector? Can you elaborate on this?

British companies have a great deal to offer to Kazakhstan. A wide range of British companies in Kazakhstan in oil and gas sector from big operators, like Shell and BG, to smaller service providers, are sharing their experience and knowledge. I think British companies are increasingly focused on joint work with Kazakhstani companies helping to build local content and local skills in the oil and gas sector. That’s why, for a example, we have close working relationships with organisations like KCA (Kazakhstan Contracting Agency) to develop local content.

* Are the UK companies like Shell going to keep pushing for the Trans-Caspian
pipeline or will they use the pipeline that will go along the Russian Caspian coast?

The UK feels that a diverse range of pipeline routes, provided these are sensible commercial decisions, is a good framework. I am sure the idea of a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline route is a route investors will look at and if it makes good commercial sense then it would be good if it would be built.

* What do you think about the desire of the EC to diversify hydrocarbons supply from Central Asia?

The European Union is very keen to have assured and stable supplies of energy. In that context, diversification of the sources of supply makes obvious sense.

* Is the UK concerned with the increasing influence of China in the Central Asia energy market?

China has a big population, and rapidly growing rate of economic growth, and therefore a very rapidly increasing demand for oil and gas, and therefore I think it’s perfectly natural that China should be looking at countries which can potentially supply it with oil and gas. So, the fact of increasing Chinese interest in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas sector is perfectly to be expected.

* Is the UK willing to ignore human rights and democracy violations in Central Asia over oil?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office sets itself a number of strategic priorities, key areas of which are international relations focus. We have a set of 10 strategic priorities. One of those is strategic priority Seven – sustainable development and poverty reduction underpinned by human rights, democracy, and good governance. Another is strategic priority Five, which is about supporting the UK economy, among other things through security of energy supplies. What this means is that human rights and democracy and energy supplies are both priority areas for us. We pursue them both. We don’t do less of one in order to promote the other.

* Kazakhstan is currently debating proposed presidential amendments to the Constitution. Your opinion?

Of course, the precise constitutional form that Kazakhstan should have is a matter for Kazakhstan. We, in the United Kingdom, would certainly not want to say that Kazakhstan should follow an exact Westminster model. The Constitutional model should however be democratic, and meet internationally accepted norms, for example those of the United Nations and OSCE. There are certainly some positive features in the amendments. For an example, increased role of Parliament, reduction in the scope of the death penalty, and transfer of arrest warrants from the Prosecutors’ offices to the courts. These are some areas in which we would like to see further progress – it would be good, for example, if Kazakhstan would introduce the complete abolition of the death penalty. We should also await the precise legislative changes to see how the laws enact what have been proposed in terms of constitutional changes.

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