Kazakhstan 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ashley Clarke, Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce Kazakhstan, on the establishment of the chamber, attracting more businesses to Kazakhstan, and investment opportunities in the country.

Ashley Clarke
Ashley Clarke was elected the Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan in 2016. He is also the Director of the Audit Department, COO and Head of Audit at KPMG Kazakhstan and Central Asia, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan. He has worked with banks, insurance companies, and investment funds in the UK, the Caribbean, Russia, and Kazakhstan. He also serves as the Kazakhstan country representative for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He holds a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Edinburgh.

What led to the decision to establish the British Chamber last year?

British companies have long been established in Kazakhstan, and have a strong history of investment and trading links with the country. For many years British businesses were connected in Kazakhstan through informal networks, such as the British Business Group, which was established by British expatriates who organized meetings and networking events on a range of topics, and through associations that have a broad membership base such as the American Chamber of Commerce. The British Chamber of Commerce was established to provide a structured organization to serve British businesses in Kazakhstan, in order to not only facilitate networking but also provide business-to-business services to its members and stakeholders. Although the chamber is an independent entity, it works in close partnership with the Department of International Trade (DIT), a British government department that assists British companies in international markets and supports overseas investors seeking to invest in the UK. The drive to set up the chamber came from both the British Embassy in Kazakhstan and the British business community itself, in particular through the hard work of the founding members, who contributed significant time and funding to get the chamber off the ground.

Are you also involved in initiatives to attract and promote business investment in Kazakhstan?

DIT assists UK businesses that are interested in investment opportunities overseas. For Kazakhstan, such enquiries from interested UK investors will generally be directly referred to the British Chamber, and so we form an integral part of the process for assisting UK companies to understand investment opportunities in the country, and thereby promoting Kazakhstan as an investment destination. In addition to this, our members and committee members have participated and spoken at a variety of international events over the last year, including several in London, where they are able to spread the word about the experiences of UK businesses investing in Kazakhstan. Our job is not to market Kazakhstan per se but to make sure there is appropriate sharing of information so that investors can make informed decisions.

In which sectors do you see the most investment opportunities here, especially for British companies?

Oil and gas, mining, and the many services that support these industries are a significant area of international trade and investment, and this should continue to provide opportunities. Other sectors where technological innovation plays a disruptive role, including for example green energy and mobile banking, are areas that are likely to hold potential in the future. The government's commitment to the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) and its plans to apply English law sends a positive message to potential investors and is a great opportunity for UK businesses, lawyers, and advisors to add significant value to improve the level of transparency in the legal framework.

What are some of the challenges in today's business climate in Kazakhstan that might discourage British investors?

British investors—in fact all international investors—are attracted to destinations where they can expect not only strong returns on investment, but where there is stability and where they are able to predict with some certainty how laws and regulations will be applied to them. Kazakhstan has made, and continues to make, important steps in promoting an environment of consistency, but this is a key area where the perception of investors could be improved. The government is taking steps to achieve this, and its remarkably open dialog with international business associations such as the chamber helps. The relatively recent fall in the price of oil has of course created other economic challenges but for any country to succeed as investment destination, continuing to support the transparent and consistent development of the rule of law is fundamental in my view.

What are your expectations from 2017?

The recommencement of operations at Kashagan, increased stability in the oil price, and the positive effect of Expo on the economy make me cautiously optimistic.