China far ahead, but Kazakhstan still desires India alliance

October 26th, 2008 - 11:32 am ICT by IANS  

Astana, Oct 26 (IANS) Despite being slow off the block, India can still build close economic and trade ties with oil and mineral rich Kazakhstan as the country is keen to attract Indian investments and expand economic collaboration, experts say.Kazakhstan is a potential goldmine and has rich deposits of as many as 99 elements out of the 110 listed in Mendelev’s periodic table. Plus, it has large proven reserves of oil.

Yet, while China-Kazakhstan bilateral trade is currently around $14 billion and is tipped to touch $15 billion by 2010, India-Kazakhstan bilateral trade stands at a minuscule $200 million or so, according to foreign office figures here.

China has also inked several energy partnerships with the oil rich Central Asian countries including Kazakhstan and is an active member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation that includes besides China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

But despite China’s lead, Kazakhstan is still keen to attract Indian investments and expand economic and trade ties.

Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Nurian Yermekbayev told a visiting IANS correspondent: “We are interested in India’s partnership in information technology (IT), space research and oil exploration.”

Says Indian envoy Ashok Sajjanhar: “Indian businessmen couldn’t take advantage of Kazakhstan’s tax incentives during the initial years of its independence. But it is never too late.”

Kazakhstan is still keen to attract investments from India in a number of sectors where the Southeast Asian economic giant has an edge over most other countries such as education, petrochemicals, IT, tourism, power generation and transmission, oil refining, railways and agriculture as well as agro-processing, he says.

“Even collaboration in space research can be a great bet,” Sajjanhar told IANS in this business hub and capital city of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan possesses the world’s eighth largest oil reserves, the world’s largest lead, tungsten, barite, and uranium reserves, the world’s second-largest chromite, silver, and zinc reserves and the third- largest deposits of manganese besides significant deposits of gold, copper and iron ore.

Located near the northeast portion of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan claims most of the sea’s biggest known oil fields. According to the Energy Information Administration of the US government, Kazakhstan’s combined onshore and offshore proven hydrocarbon reserves have been estimated between nine billion and 40 billion barrels - comparable to OPEC members Algeria on the low end and Libya on the high end.

OPEC stands for Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The country produced approximately 1.45 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil in 2007 and consumed 250,000 bbl/d, resulting in net petroleum exports of around 1.2 million bbl/d.

Oil exports are the foundation of the country’s economy and have ensured that average real gross domestic product (GDP) growth has stayed above nine percent for the last six years, making it one of the fastest growing countries in the world.

India, on the other hand, imports nearly 70 percent of its oil requirement, most of it from the Middle East. To overcome its dependence on the Middle East, the country needs to diversify its sources of oil import.

For India, the most attractive oil domain outside the Persian Gulf is the Caspian Basin. Recognizing this, India is already trying to befriend the region and gain a foothold.

But experts say India must do more to build meaningful relationships with countries such as Kazakhstan. Says strategic expert Sanat Kushkumbayev: “It’s time India looked towards east in its close neighbourhood rather than focusing only on the west.”

Kushkumbayev is deputy director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies.

“For Kazakhstan, India is strategically a vital partner. India has a responsible role in the Central Asian region. And our country is especially interested in collaboration in oil refining, railways and agriculture,” he adds.

Kazakhstan, the last Soviet republic to declare independence in December 1991, is a country bigger than the whole of western Europe. It is nestled between two Asian giants - Russia and China - sharing borders with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea.

Since its independence, the country has received more than $40 billion of foreign investment and, according to official estimates, the country’s oil and gas sector is tipped to attract $150-200 billion in the next 10 years.

At the official level too, Kazakhstan is very keen to expand ties with India given New Delhi’s increasing demand for uranium to fuel its growing nuclear energy requirements.

Thus, despite China’s substantial lead and its far-reaching presence in the Central Asian region, experts say it is still not too late for India to join the race and leverage its edge in many sectors like oil exploration and space research.

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