The EU Central Asia Invest (CAI) networking meeting 2018 held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, from 15-17 October 2018 helped better co-ordinate and discuss achievements of the EU CAI programme. The meeting gathered private and public partners of the programme, including Business Intermediary Organisations (BIOs) of Central Asia, CAI project managers, the EBRD and the OECD as well as other development partners and EU-funded project stakeholders such as GIZ, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and EU Border Management in Central Asia (BOMCA) programme.
EU CAI projects shared their respective achievements that stimulated discussions, including skill development and capacity-building activities for BIOs on a wide range of topics, development of dialogue and consultation platforms, drafting of analytical and research documents including policy recommendations, creation of promotional materials, and other activities increasing the voice of BIOs in Central Asia countries.
Exchanges also covered policy challenges and recommendations for CAI projects and policy-makers to enhance SME and BIO development with a focus on several topics:
- Business and tax regulations:
- Large progress but need to implement all planned business administrative simplification measures (registration, licenses);
- Continue digitalisation efforts and improve tax administration for SMEs;
- Further support business formalisation through incentives and simplification measures.
- Access to finance:
- Better inform CAI BIOs of EBRD projects’ possibilities, especially IFCA;
- Encourage use of alternative financial instruments such as WRF, leasing;
- Continue to support financial literacy initiatives;
- Increase green financing portfolio;
- Support public financial instruments with the involvement of banks.
- Trade, transport and logistics :
- Enhance customs agencies’ co-ordination;
- Further digitalise custom procedures;
- Enhance the training of customs officers (in progress with EU BOMCA);
- Develop logistical centres to facilitate trade across borders;
- Continue to fight corruption.
- Informality remains a major topic to be addressed: the shadow economy is pervasive, which tends to indicate that current business and tax environment discourages many SMEs to get formalised;
- Digitalisation is another key challenge and opportunity for businesses and BIOs in the region, it may help to fight other issues, such as corruption.
Ways to foster active public-private dialogue were also suggested by participants with the following responsibilities:
- Collecting on a regular basis policy messages from CAI projects and meeting together with high level policy-makers and convey key messages (EU, OECD);
- Inviting on a regular basis BIOs to its events with the support of CAI project managers, and provide speaking slots when relevant (OECD, EBRD);
- Informing one another more closely about on-going policy dialogue activities (e.g. investment council) (EU, OECD, EBRD);
- Organising more regularly in-country co-ordination meetings between CAI and EU-funded projects, possibly involving BIOs (EU).
As a key take away, the co-ordination among CAI projects could be enhanced by:
- Providing more space for BIO and CAI project exchanges during and between CAI meetings;
- Moderating the O.N.E knowledge-sharing platform that could include upcoming events, project documents and analytical materials could be uploaded;
- Disseminating on a regular basis a Central Asia Invest newsletter summarising the latest CAI project developments and informing about next key milestones;
- Considering inserting a ‘co-ordination missions’ budget line in grant projects that would allow grantees to have funds to finance missions to attend one another’s meeting;
- Considering expanding the CAI scope of countries to Afghanistan and Mongolia.