On March 29th, the government of the United Kingdom officially began proceedings to exit the European Union, following the monumental “Brexit” referendum of June 2016.
Kazakhstan was an immediate beneficiary of Brexit, as the country’s treasury liquidated a portion of its pound sterling holdings, and profited substantially from the unexpected result. But the long-term impact of Brexit on Central Asia’s relationship with Europe, and the United Kingdom in particular, could prove to be more promising still.
Central Asian states will no doubt look to build on their already fruitful relationship with the United Kingdom, which in turn will be looking to bolster bilateral relations and trade links with countries outside the EU. Britain is the third-largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in Kazakhstan, for example, and the Central Asian leader’s contributions to the US-led, UK-backed War on Terror over the past decade will not have gone unnoticed by both nations’ new-look governments.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on the sidelines of last September’s G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, and invited her to visit the Central Asian state, noting a high ongoing level of cooperation between the two nations.
Meanwhile Central Asia’s links with the EU have been boosted by a number of recent bilateral meetings, with the next EU-Central Asia Ministerial Meeting to take place later this year in Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan signed an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) with the European Union in 2015 – the first Central Asian state to attain such a diplomatic level with the EU.
Although the fate of all parties affected by Brexit is uncertain during this pivotal period in European history, there is every reason to expect the states of Central Asia to continue to benefit from their relations with both the United Kingdom and the remaining members of the European Union going forwards.