Uzbekistan embarks on unexpected economic reforms

Mar 07, 2019

WHEN MINISTERS from faraway countries tour Western financial centres to tout their plans for economic reform, their presentations are often drearily predictable. There is typically lots of talk about “fiscal consolidation”, improvements to infrastructure and the soundness of the banking system. Not Djamshed Kuchkarov, finance minister of Uzbekistan: he is proudest of what his government is not doing. The most important economic reform since Shavkat Mirziyoyev succeeded Islam Karimov as president in 2016, he says, is a three-year moratorium on inspections of businesses by meddling government officials. Government could do the businessmen of Uzbekistan no greater favour, he implies, than getting out of their way and letting them get on with things, without fear of extortion.

In a region full of state-dominated, bureaucratic, corruption-riddled economies, it is a revolutionary thought. Mr Karimov was already running Uzbekistan when it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. He preserved all sorts of Soviet economic policies, including an inflated official exchange rate, currency controls and an enormous role for the state in industry and farming. To that he added such standard post-Soviet abuses as the abrupt expropriation of any private business that looked worth seizing.

Few had expected Mr Mirziyoyev to change...

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