A SOLID BLUEPRINT

Kazakhstan 2014 | ECONOMY | INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

TBY talks to Janet Heckman, Director for Kazakhstan at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), on investment areas and supporting the non-oil economy.

Janet Heckman
BIOGRAPHY
Janet Heckman was appointed to her current position in July 2012. Prior to that, she worked for Citigroup as a Managing Director in corporate banking for 32 years and across seven countries, including the UK, Algeria, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Greece, and Bahrain. She has an academic background in History and International Relations.

Over the next 18 months, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) intends to invest over $1 billion in Kazakhstan. What are its main investment priorities?

There are three basic areas that we will be focusing on in Kazakhstan. One is diversification in support of the non-resources sectors; we are already the largest investor in this area and will continue to support it through financing projects that enhance corporate sector productivity, in particular those that improve the business environment, modernization in the agro-business sector and the entire value chain, and that facilitate growth in the SME sector. We will also work intensively with the banking and non-banking financial sectors, particularly with micro-credit and SMEs. The second pivot of the strategy is balancing the role of the state and the market by supporting the growth of private enterprises. We will also be working with public enterprises to help commercialize them, boost efficiency, and bring the private sector into what was state dominated, primarily through policy instruments like public-private partnerships (PPPs) and fair and transparent procurement policies. The third pivot of our strategy is the green economy, through the promotion of low carbon growth and energy efficiency. We worked closely with the government of Kazakhstan and the Ministry of Environment and Water to put in place the new energy strategy, and we will be supporting this as the top priority through projects in energy renewables, agriculture waste, waste management, transport, and other sectors.

In which non-energy sectors do you see the greatest opportunities for foreign investment?

I would say the infrastructure sector because of the massive size of the country. There are huge road projects underway. The EBRD has financed a portion of the Shymkent-Tashkent road, which is part of the West China-to-West Europe project. In terms of airlines, I believe there is room for a regional firm to complement Air Astana on routes that airlines do not cover. There are huge opportunities in the agribusiness sector, too, that I think have not yet been fully exploited. In the southern part of the country, there have been quite a few agricultural missions from Western Europe related to irrigation systems, green houses, and other projects. In terms of manufacturing, the key for Kazakhstan will be the ability to open up the market to surrounding countries; Kazakhstan has just 17 million people, but if you start to include countries like Uzbekistan and the surrounding Central Asian countries into its market dynamics, then you have a much broader base for production.

What steps need to be taken to make Kazakhstan's capital markets more attractive?

The first thing needed is trust amongst the banks. Right now, there is a real problem in terms of tenge liquidity, rendering medium- or long-term borrowing difficult, and of course the successful growth of SMEs requires longer-term funding available to finance investments. First of all, by cleaning up the banking sphere, the banks will establish trust amongst themselves, enabling the healthy growth of a real money market among the banks. Then, the ability of companies to raise funds in tenge is absolutely critical. What we are finding now is that many companies are primarily borrowing in US dollars, which is unsustainable in the long term due to exchange rate risks.

What opportunities are there for private investment in Kazakhstan's regions?

Places such as Shymkent are growing rapidly—there are around 1 million people in the city and the surrounding areas. Were you to open up border controls and make import/export to Central Asia easier, I think there would be even more growth in the Shymkent area.