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China Surpasses Russia as Top Trade Partner in Central Asia

  • Kazakhstan's trade with China accounted for 21.3% of its total foreign trade in the first nine months of 2023, exceeding Russia's 18.6% share.
  • Uzbekistan also reported China as its largest trade partner, with 21.3% of its trade turnover, compared to Russia's 15.5%.
  • Issues at border crossings, such as long delays and customs inspections, are affecting trade between Kazakhstan and China, alongside legal challenges involving illegal transportation of goods from China.

China has eclipsed Russia as the main trade partner of all five Central Asian states, according to official statistics. Kazakhstan is the most recent Central Asian country to see Beijing pass Moscow in terms of annual trade turnover. 

For the first nine months of 2023, China accounted for a 21.3 percent share (valued at $21.7 billion) of Kazakhstan’s total foreign trade, according to statistics compiled by Kazakhstan’s National Statistics Bureau. Russia’s trade turnover share amounted to 18.6 percent ($18.9 billion). Raw materials and natural resources accounted for the bulk of Kazakh exports to China, while Beijing’s trade comprised primarily of finished goods, including household wares, clothing and autos. The Energy Prom news outlet characterized Kazakhstan’s trade relationship with China as “one step forward, and two steps back,” citing flat energy prices and “the predominance of raw materials” in Kazakhstan’s exports.

Chinese figures for bilateral trade differ markedly from Kazakhstan’s. According to Beijing’s envoy to Kazakhstan, Zhang Xiao, bilateral trade turnover for the first 10 months of 2023 amounted to $32.7 billion, marking a 28.5 percent increase in the value of trade over the same period the previous year. Kazakh media report that the figure for the period was $24.3 billion. 

Meanwhile, according to Chinese figures, Beijing’s transit trade with Kazakhstan has doubled over the past year, and currently stands at 1.5 million tons. Chinese officials say they aim to reach 7.5 million tons of transit trade via Kazakhstan by 2029.

China also accounted for a 21.3 percent trade turnover share (worth $12.23 billion) with Uzbekistan during the first 11 months of 2023, the Uzbek State Statistics Agency reports. Uzbek exports to China totaled $2.27 billion, and imports $9.96 billion. Russia is Uzbekistan’s second largest trade turnover partner with a 15.5 percent share (worth $8.86 billion). Uzbek natural gas exports to China during the period were worth $503 million, almost two times less than the amount for the same period in 2022.

Long delays are being reported at some land border crossings between Kazakhstan and China. For example, the wait for trucks and autos trying to cross at the Nur Zholy border checkpoint can last more than 11 days, according to the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs. Trucks carrying goods are often subjected to repeated inspections by customs officers “without explanation,” the business group said, citing complaints from drivers. Officials recently began operating the Nur Zholy checkpoint on a round-the-clock basis to address the border jam issue.

The Zakon.kz outlet reported that a former director of Kazakhstan’s Border Service, Darkhan Dilmanov, was convicted of “abuse of power” and received a four-year prison sentence for participating in a scheme involving the illegal transportation of goods from China to Kazakhstan.

By Eurasianet.org


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  • Mamdouh Salameh on December 30 2023 said:
    This is to be expected given that China’s economy is bigger than Russia’s and China’s trade with countries of Central Asia is overwhelmingly energy.

    However, Russia’s trade with China in 2023 topped 250 bn dollars breaking last year’s figure of 190 bn and rising by more than 31 percent year-on-year

    This is a spectacular achievement given that Russia’s trade with China was only 11 bn in 2013.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert
  • Steven Conn on December 30 2023 said:
    There is nothing surprising that after over 30 years since Soviet breakup China has finally become the region's leading trader partner.
    First of all, the structure of trade: since Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan export oil and gas, they're unlikely to send much of it to Russia, which is an exporter, not an importer, of energy. Russia simply doesn't need all this gas and oil.
    Secondly, Russian exports to Central Asia will growth in the next few years as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan start to import energy from Russia. Uzbekistan just signed a deal to import nearly 3 billion cubic meters of gas each year.
    Thirdly, Russia-China trade turnover has eclipsed Central Asia trade with Russia, EU trade with Russia, and US trade with Russia one by one during the last decade. China is the largest exporter and largest manufacturer in the World and has trade and a trade surplus with US allies Mexico and the EU, surpassing USA as the largest EU trade partner recently.
    So its growing trading with Central Asia is a footnote to larger global shifts.

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