Kazakhstan 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ablay Myrzakhmetov, Chairman of Atameken, on easing business processes and enabling the next generation of Kazakhstan's entrepreneurs.

Ablay Myrzakhmetov
Ablay Myrzakhmetov was elected Chairman of the Board of the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan, known as Atameken, at its establishment in 2013. He has experience working in the business sector, Trade and Industry Chamber of Kazakhstan, as well as the national transport company. He was also a Minister of Transport and Communications of the Republic of Kazakhstan. He graduated from the well-known economics faculty of the Moscow State University.

What have been the chamber's main areas of focus and initiatives since its establishment?

By law we represent 100% of businesses in Kazakhstan in their dialog with the government at the local, municipal, and national levels. One of our responsibilities is to represent our business in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. Overall, our key responsibility is to protect our businessmen, and we do this on a case-by-case basis. We had 14,000 cases of businesses reaching out to us with problems. 40% of those cases were resolved in a positive way for the business. For example, some faced issues such as bureaucracy, taxation, customs, or various checks from the government. We want businesses to have clear set rules. We work to improve laws as at present there are numerous administrative barriers including licenses, certificates, and permits that companies have to obtain from the government. In the last three years, we have reduced the number of permits, certificates, and licenses required from 1,100 to only 300. The next step is to automate the process so that when a business has to acquire a certificate or a license, it does not have to be in contact with any other government officials, but can instead get it done electronically.

One of the government's strategies is to have the SME segment contribute at least 50% of GDP by 2050. What is Atameken doing to this end?

There are three things that businesses need in order to develop well: clear and well-defined regulations, access to capital, and access to human resources. Our work on making the regulations clear is obvious. As for access to capital, we have a finance association that all banks and insurance companies are members of. Interest rates, loans, and regulations are of course all determined by the central bank. We also work with the government via its support programs for businesses. For access to human resources, we collect information from employers regarding the professionals they need and discuss the issue with ministries and colleges. We also work with associations to set professional standards. We are developing an “Uberization" application that matches job seekers and employers. If a student lacks the specific educational requirements, Atameken will intervene to provide the necessary education. Besides these three aspects, there is more we have to do to achieve a 50% SMEs share in GDP, which at the moment is 25-26%.

What potential do you see in agriculture being one of the drivers of Kazakhstan's economy in the future, and which other sectors are promising for growth?

I see great potential in the agricultural sector, particularly in the organic segment. We have large and natural pastures that do not require any artificial feeding, so we can produce beef and lamb there. Certain Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have started purchasing lamb from Kazakhstan. We are the biggest producer of wheat in the world, and several years ago we were the number-one global exporter of flour. After agriculture, I see a great deal of potential in logistics; we can become a logistics hub between China, Europe, and Russia with railways and automobiles. We have a strategy for this, and it works; every year, the number of containers that go through Kazakhstan increases. The third sector is tourism. This sector has not been developed yet, but we have everything—mountains, sea, steppes—all of which are beautiful. We should develop infrastructure and service, which can be done easily and rapidly. Ecotourism is another potentially promising area. Besides oil and minerals, these are the three sectors that are the most productive. We are a young nation; we have 5 million people between the ages of 15 and 30. Young specialists, who developed the Uberization application, are now working on another application for the ecosystem on the base of the Expo 2017 in Astana.