Despite the major global disruptions of 2020, the Trans-Caspian Trade and Transit Corridor remains at the center of European and Asian connectivity. Comprised of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey to the west, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan to the east of the Caspian Sea, the corridor serves as an essential overland route linking the European Union, China, India, and the Middle East. After a year when global connections came under incredible strain due to a raging pandemic and ailing economy, the Great Caspian Region must be poised to capitalize on emerging opportunities to boost connectivity.
Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the change in Washington from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration will be a considerable difference between 2020 and 2021 for the Greater Caspian Region. While much of the U.S. policy towards the region will remain the same, President Biden’s government will mean a number of key shifts. These differences will not only have significant implications for 2021, but for the coming four years of U.S. relations with the countries of the Caspian region.
As the countries of the Greater Caspian Region manage the profound changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and the private sector must cooperate to usher in a period of renewed economic growth. Encouraging infrastructure investment and innovation will be critical to the recovery of economic systems in the Caspian and around the world. In some sectors, work will return to the way it was before the pandemic, while in others fundamental changes will not be reversed. The Trans-Caspian countries must find a way to harness these new opportunities and deliver economic results for their people.
A cornerstone of the post-COVID recovery will be a robust commitment to hard and soft infrastructure development. The Trans-Caspian Corridor’s success as a bridge between the surrounding regions rests on the Caspian countries’ collective ability to build safe and reliable infrastructure. Multimodal transport hubs are essential for moving cargo across the region’s varied geography, and governments will need to work to build investment climates that will attract the large sums needed to launch new projects. Efforts like the Blue Dot Network could prove to be major boons for the region as it looks to diversify its portfolio of investors and broaden its reach as it seeks to tap new capital markets.
Long the foundation of the Trans-Caspian Corridor, the energy trade in the region is also rapidly changing. Supply overhangs for oil and gas resulted in low prices in 2020, causing considerable problems for the hydrocarbon sector. At the same time, the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline marked the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor and the beginning of Caspian energy exports to the European Union. The makeup of Caspian energy is also set to change as the region contends with the energy transition. The region holds massive potential in the renewable energy sector, and with responsible leadership can retain its status as a major player in the energy industry even as the importance of hydrocarbons diminishes. By bringing solar, wind, and hydropower into the picture alongside oil and gas, the Caspian region will be well–positioned for the evolving market ahead.
The Caspian Policy Center will bring together policy and business leaders from the United States and the Trans-Caspian corridor countries at the 5th Trans-Caspian Forum on June 9-10, 2021, to discuss opportunities and challenges in enhancing their strategic engagement and prosperity and explore current and future business, trade, and investment opportunities to the benefit of all concerned. The Forum is co-organized by the Embassies of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan, and supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Agency for International Development, with participation of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. National Security Council, and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
Overview: By bringing together policymakers, businesspeople, and experts from across the Greater Caspian Region and around Washington, the Trans-Caspian Forum provides a platform to explore the vital role the region plays in trade, connectivity, infrastructure, and energy. The 5th Trans-Caspian Forum will review the monumental changes that the region and world have undergone over the last year and discuss new opportunities for further strengthening U.S.-Caspian cooperation moving forward.
9:00 – 9:10 am Opening Remarks
- Efgan Nifti, Chief Executive Officer, Caspian Policy Center
9:10 – 9:45 am Ambassadorial Welcome Remarks
- H.E. Roya Rahmani, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States
- H.E. Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States
- H.E. David Bakradze, Ambassador of Georgia to the United States
- H.E. Yerzhan Ashikbayev, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States
- H.E. Baktybek Amanbaev, Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to the United States
- H.E. Farrukh Hamralizoda, Ambassador of Tajikistan to the United States (TBC)
- H.E. Murat Mercan, Ambassador of Turkey to the United States
- H.E. Meret Orazov, Ambassador of Turkmenistan to the United States (TBC)
- H.E. Javlon Vakhabov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States
Ministerial Roundtable: U.S. – Caspian Strategic Partnership
Overview: The Greater Caspian Region is situated at the crossroads between China, Russia, Iran, and the European Union. In addition, the United States has been eager to play a more significant role in the region’s foreign policy development to secure economic sovereignty, fight international terrorism, and support investment and private sector growth. The ministerial roundtable discussants will speak about their countries’ experiences coordinating with the United States to achieve their mutual foreign policy goals while managing economic recovery and cooperation endeavors amidst the changing world of the COVID-19 pandemic.
9:45 – 10:10 am Keynote Remarks
- Matt Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Trade Policy and Negotiations, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State
- Eric Green, Acting Senior Director for Russia and Central Asia, U.S. National Security Council
- Margot Ellis, Acting Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, U.S. Agency for International Development
10:10 – 10:50 am Panel 1 Discussion
- Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
- Mikayil Jabbarov, Minister of Economy of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- Lasha Darsalia, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia
- Zhaslan Madiyev, Deputy Chairman of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Yavuz Selim Kıran, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey
- Zavqi Zavqizoda, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of the Republic of Tajikistan (TBC)
Ambassador (ret.) Richard Hoagland, Advisory Board Member, Caspian Policy Center
10:50 – 11:00 am Virtual Coffee Break
Trans-Caspian Connectivity and Infrastructure Development
Overview: The Greater Caspian Region is one of the least internally connected regions in the world and there is a significant potential to invest in building robust east-west transit routes to increase trade and connectivity. Outdated and inefficient cross-border infrastructure hampers regional connectivity and economic development. While countries in the region are innovating new transit routes that would link Central Asia to the South Caucasus and modernize vital infrastructure, finding responsible financing to fulfill these aspirations will be essential. Speakers on the Trans-Caspian Connectivity and Infrastructure Development panel will discuss the feasibility of future infrastructure projects spanning the Greater Caspian Region and the best practices to promote private sector engagement in these efforts.
11:00 – 11:10 am Keynote Remarks
- Heather Byrnes, Regional Senior Commercial Officer for Eurasia, U.S. Department of Commerce
11:10 – 12:30 pm Panel 2 Discussion
- Berik Kamaliyev, Deputy Minister of Industry and Infrastructural Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Odilbek Isakov, Deputy Minister of Finance of the Republic of Uzbekistan
- Ketevan Salukvadze, Head of Transport and Logistics Development Policy Department, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia
- Taleh Ziyadov, General Director of Baku International Sea Trade Port
- Abay Turikpenbayev, President of Aktau International Commercial Sea Port
- Hiroyuki Suzuki, Chief Representative in Washington D.C., Japan Bank for International Cooperation
- Farhad Guliyev, Deputy Chairman, Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping
- Victor Kipiani, Chair of Geocase, Georgia
- Matt Edwards, Director of the Office of Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Global Markets-U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
Trans-Caspian as a Global Hub for Energy Supplies, Security, and Sustainability
Overview: Now more than ever, the Caspian countries are poised to play a decisive role in regional energy development. Despite the immense challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, December 31st marked the first delivery of natural gas to Italy through the completed Southern Gas Corridor. Expanding the reach of Caspian energy exports to South Europe and beyond has cemented the region’s role in the global energy trade. At the same time, the region is undergoing a transition as countries implement projects to increase renewable energy sources and contribute to world decarbonization efforts. With major solar, wind, and hydro potential, the Caspian region is well positioned to successfully navigate the changing energy markets.
9:00 – 09:10 am Keynote Remarks
- Kurt Donnelly, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Energy Resources, U.S. Department of State
9:10 – 10:30 am Panel 3 Discussion
- Elnur Soltanov, Deputy Minister of Energy of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- Aliya Shalabekova, Deputy Minister of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Elshad Nassirov, Vice President, State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- Giorgi Chikovani, CEO, Georgian Energy Development Fund
- Amy Conroy, Director, International Government Affairs, Chevron (TBC)
- Robert Scher, Head of International Affairs, BP
- Fawad Quraishi, Vice President and Head of Representative Office in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, Equinor
- Eldor Tulyakov, Executive Director of Development Strategy Center, Uzbekistan
- Ambassador (ret.) Robert Cekuta, Advisory Board Member, Caspian Policy Center
10:30 – 11:00 am Virtual Coffee Break
Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystems
Overview: As the world has struggled to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly important for governments and private businesses to encourage inclusive growth and entrepreneurship to create change. The pandemic has had immediate and detrimental effects on healthcare services and commerce, highlighting the need for innovative digital approaches to medicine, communications, and sales. The burden of the pandemic has also fallen disproportionately on women in how it affects their safety, education, and social well-being. It will be vital for the Caspian region to promote investments into, and dedicate resources to, these critical systems as countries try to energize their economies and emerge stronger in the new, post-pandemic world.
11:00 – 11:10 am Keynote Remarks
- Harry Bader, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation, U.S. Agency for International Development
11:10 – 12:30 pm Panel 4 Discussion
- Orkhan Mammadov, Chairman of the Management Board of the Small and Medium Business Development Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan
- Avtandil Kasradze, Head of Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency
- Lazzat Ramazanova, Chairman of the National Commission on Women’s Affairs and Family and Demographic Policy under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Malika Jurakulova, Gender Adviser at the USAID Tajikistan Mission
- Umid Abidkhadjaev, Director of Institute for Forecasting and Macroeconomic Research under the Ministry of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction of the Republic of Uzbekistan
- Ambassador (ret.) Susan Elliott, Advisory Board Member, Caspian Policy Center
TRANS-CASPIAN FORUM 2019