Country Rankings - Kazakhstan
Dec 31, 2012 Kazakhstan: in a 17-year marathonBy and large, the World Trade Organization has had a good year, with a number of countries joining the organization after what must seem to them to be interminable negotiations. The process involves a new member in reaching agreements over tariffs with all 157 other members, or whatever that number may have become. In fact there aren't that many separate negotiations; they are dealt with in groups, and most of the work is done by WTO staffers; but the trickier relationships are handled individually, so it's no surprise that for instance, Kazakhstan, which expects to join in 2013 has been negotiating since 1996. Most of the ex-Soviet states decided they wanted to join, during the immediate post-USSR years from 1990 to 1995, but when they took a closer look at what was involved many of them turned tail. Even the biggest, and arguably the one with the most to gain, Russia, joined only in 2012. One of the hang-ups has been the desire of the key post-Soviet states to form their own, private free-trade zone rather than joining in with Western equivalents, and that grouping of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan has stood in the way of economic progress in many respects. It's still unclear whether this Slavic common market will have legs; mostly it has just got in the way of such processes as the march towards the WTO. I was in Alm-Aty in 1994 on an economic mission and the Prime Minister enjoyed joking that Kazakhstan was going to be part of Europe; but the reality was that the President decided to build a new capital city à la Brasilia in Astana, which was a retrograde and anti-Western step. The diplomatic corps was horrified at tales of mosquitos as big as hornets and appalling winters. Alm-Aty was seen as being too self-indulgent and too close to China. It still is; but Astana has been built and has a population of 700,000, although everyone who can still lives in Alm-Aty and commutes! Anyway, a star for Kazakhstan for its Long March to the WTO.