China eclipses Russia as Central Asia’s top trade partner in 2023

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An update on trade-related developments in Central Asia

China has eclipsed Russia as the main trade partner of all five Central Asian states, according to official statistics. Kazakhstan is the most recent Central Asian country to see Beijing pass Moscow in terms of annual trade turnover. 

For the first nine months of 2023, China accounted for a 21.3 percent share (valued at $21.7 billion) of Kazakhstan’s total foreign trade, according to statistics compiled by Kazakhstan’s National Statistics Bureau. Russia’s trade turnover share amounted to 18.6 percent ($18.9 billion). Raw materials and natural resources accounted for the bulk of Kazakh exports to China, while Beijing’s trade comprised primarily of finished goods, including household wares, clothing and autos. The Energy Prom news outlet characterized Kazakhstan’s trade relationship with China as “one step forward, and two steps back,” citing flat energy prices and “the predominance of raw materials” in Kazakhstan’s exports.

Chinese figures for bilateral trade differ markedly from Kazakhstan’s. According to Beijing’s envoy to Kazakhstan, Zhang Xiao, bilateral trade turnover for the first 10 months of 2023 amounted to $32.7 billion, marking a 28.5 percent increase in the value of trade over the same period the previous year. Kazakh media report that the figure for the period was $24.3 billion. 

Meanwhile, according to Chinese figures, Beijing’s transit trade with Kazakhstan has doubled over the past year, and currently stands at 1.5 million tons. Chinese officials say they aim to reach 7.5 million tons of transit trade via Kazakhstan by 2029.

China also accounted for a 21.3 percent trade turnover share (worth $12.23 billion) with Uzbekistan during the first 11 months of 2023, the Uzbek State Statistics Agency reports. Uzbek exports to China totaled $2.27 billion, and imports $9.96 billion. Russia is Uzbekistan’s second largest trade turnover partner with a 15.5 percent share (worth $8.86 billion). Uzbek natural gas exports to China during the period were worth $503 million, almost two times less than the amount for the same period in 2022.

Long delays are being reported at some land border crossings between Kazakhstan and China. For example, the wait for trucks and autos trying to cross at the Nur Zholy border checkpoint can last more than 11 days, according to the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs. Trucks carrying goods are often subjected to repeated inspections by customs officers “without explanation,” the business group said, citing complaints from drivers. Officials recently began operating the Nur Zholy checkpoint on a round-the-clock basis to address the border jam issue.

The Zakon.kz outlet reported that a former director of Kazakhstan’s Border Service, Darkhan Dilmanov, was convicted of “abuse of power” and received a four-year prison sentence for participating in a scheme involving the illegal transportation of goods from China to Kazakhstan.

Source: Eurasia