CATALYSTS FOR GROWTH

Kazakhstan 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Agris Preimanis, Head of Kazakhstan at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), on increasing growth, investing smartly, and building a more inclusive economy.

Agris Preimanis
BIOGRAPHY
Agris Preimanis is the Director for Kazakhstan within the EBRD. He is also Chairman of the Board of Kazakhstan Foreign Investors’ Council Association. In his work, he has engaged with governments, regulators, and the private sector on formulating economic policies, strategies, and structural reforms. He also maintained a broader role in the venture capital and private equity sector across the region. Before joining EBRD, he worked for Oxera, a UK-based advisory firm, advising financial services firms and regulators in the UK, Europe, and the US. He holds a PhD in financial economics from the University of Oxford.

What have been some of the recent key projects you have been involved in?

This year has been an exciting year for EBRD thanks largely to the big green economy projects we have financed. Our headline project was the USD50-million investments in the 50-MW Burnoye Solar-2 project, which is an exciting development in green economy investment and commercial scale renewables. Just before the opening of Expo, we signed a framework agreement with the Ministry of Energy for USD200 million. This is a project support agreement that allows us to invest this amount in the future. We expect more projects will follow throughout 2018 and 2019. It is important to understand that these projects are commercial in scale and highly bankable. Other sectors are also proving interesting for us, such as transport infrastructure. We are looking at everything from municipal infrastructure to irrigation systems. We want to help create a proper ecosystem for small- and medium-sized businesses to operate in some of the more remote regions of the country. I also want to highlight the banking and financial sectors; we have a successful program for SMEs and another program that supports female entrepreneurs through commercial banks in the country.

As you reach your lending limit with Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, how will this impact your overall strategy going forward?

Our overall strategy remains to focus on the key opportunities across the country. We recently approved our strategy for the next four years in the country, and we will focus on developing and modernizing the state sector and helping to move onto more market-based activities. We will also focus on the financial sector and capital market development, and invest heavily in developing infrastructure and connectivity both domestically and internationally. As mentioned, we will continue to focus on green investment in a broad sense, looking at renewable energies and energy efficiency. The strategy is in place, and it is very much a continuation of what we did before. The fact that we will have to reduce our investment in the sovereign wealth fund may impact the types of investments we do in the country, but it does not have a fundamental impact on our overall strategy. We concentrate on finding project opportunities across these strategic themes. There are exciting projects, and there are some attractive investment areas. We expect to see much larger projects with international sponsors across the country. Kazakhstan is one of the most energy inefficient countries in the world, so we see this area as being ripe for major improvement and ourselves as a key catalyst for investment in these areas.

Which factors have led to your assessment of the Kazakhstani economy's potential for 2017?

Kazakhstan has weathered the recent slump in oil prices well. A lot of state funds were used to support the economy, and the results were good. We have projected this year's growth in the Kazakh economy at 3.8%. This is reasonable, and it provides a good base moving forward. The real question is how to go from 3.8% growth to 5-6% growth. In order for the country to emerge as a more developed market, it needs to find a way to grow around these levels. We also have to consider the quality of growth and which sectors are growing and how the growth is distributed across the various regions of the country. On the macro level we still need to refer back to the traditional sectors. There is no getting away from the fact that the backbone of the economy will remain oil and other extractive resources. What is important, however, is that there are a lot of improvements in competitiveness and governance within these sectors, so improving efficiencies in traditional sectors has to be a priority. The digitalization revolution alone can bring huge benefits to the traditional sectors in Kazakhstan, and the state apparatus itself.