Tim Torlot: UK supports reforms in Uzbekistan

18.02.2022 10:45

TASHKENT, February 18. /“Dunyo” IA/. Today Uzbekistan and the United Kingdom celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Tim Torlot, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Uzbekistan, shared his opinion and assessments of the current development and prospects of bilateral cooperation with the “Dunyo” IA.

Dunyo: Today our countries celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Could you please share your vision of the progress achieved throughout those years?

Tim Torlot: Firstly, I would like to say how delighted I am to be able to mark this significant milestone in the relationship between our two countries. Of course, Britain has had strong links with this country for much longer than thirty years.  King Henry IV of England corresponded with Emir Timur in the 15th century. From the 16th century onwards, British merchants and travellers visited territories that later became modern Uzbekistan.

From the earliest days of independence, the UK has supported Uzbekistan’s determination to forge a strong, prosperous, sovereign nation at the heart of Central Asia. In particular, Britain has supported the ambitious reform process on which this country embarked under President Mirziyoyev’s leadership in 2016.   Our cooperation has gone from strength to strength in that time. Today our partnership covers political, economic and social reform, education, trade and investment, defence and security, human rights, the fight against serious organised crime and of course the day-to-day links between our two peoples. Let me give a few examples.

The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Uzbekistan was established in February 2017, with the aim of developing good relations between the peoples, legislatures and governments of the two countries. We were delighted when the Oliy Majlis established a sister Inter-parliamentary Group for Cooperation with the UK in 2020.

In 2020, the British Embassy launched our five-year programme: Effective Governance for Economic Development. This supports the government and civil society in their efforts to improve the effectiveness, accountability and transparency of economic and social policy. We are working on really important areas of reform – tax and customs; the green economy; governance of state owned enterprises; government procurement; labour market reform. 

Impressive economic liberalisation in Uzbekistan has led to increased trade with the UK and the signing of the United Kingdom-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 2019.  It was our first political and cooperation agreement with a Central Asian country.

Last year, Uzbekistan became the world’s first country to qualify for the UK’s new GSP Enhanced Framework. This will enable Uzbek business significantly to expand access to the UK market and economy, the fifth biggest in the world.

Together we can build a strong trading bridge, and one of the drivers here is the Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council (UBTIC), founded in 1994. The annual event provides a high-level platform for economic cooperation. Over 800 businesspeople participated in last year’s forum, focussed particularly on opportunities in financial services, clean energy, education and healthcare.  The 26th session will be held in Tashkent in April 2022.

Cooperation in the field of education and culture is probably the highest profile element of our engagement in Uzbekistan. The British Council, who this year celebrate 25 years of excellence in Uzbekistan, lead our work in this area.  More and more British educational institutions are following the example of Westminster International University, who established a world class university in Tashkent in 2002.  Thousands of Uzbek teachers and students have benefited from British Council training and programmes like our Chevening scholarships for post-graduate study in the UK, the International Leaders Programme, and the John Smith Trust’s fellowships.

Defence cooperation with Uzbekistan has also steadily increased. The UK maintains an active dialogue with the military and security departments of Uzbekistan, allowing both countries to share experience and exchange ideas in fields of law of armed conflict, gender sensitivity and crisis management.  Teams from the Uzbek armed forces are regular medal winners in the gruelling Cambrian Patrol training exercise, held every winter in the Welsh mountains.

Dunyo: Which sectors of partnership, in your opinion, are the most promising, considering Uzbekistan’s focus on modernisation and liberalization of economy, industrialisation, and green growth?

Tim Torlot: Last year, the UK welcomed Uzbekistan to the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, an event that put green energy high on the agenda.  Clean energy is again one of the key sectors that will be covered at this year’s UBTIC. Considering that demand for energy in Uzbekistan is large and keeps growing, it is crucial to implement environment-friendly energy sources as soon as possible.

The government of Uzbekistan is developing an ambitious renewable energy strategy for the next 10 years. It is an impressive initiative with great potential.  Solar and wind power plants are already being built across the country, and they will become critically important in the near future.

Another significant part of the strategy is a system of “green” lending and financing and creating special “green” funds for energy saving. The UK stands ready to support Uzbekistan’s aspirations to build a greener economy.

Of course, the essential tool for building a strong economy is education. To achieve its full potential, Uzbekistan needs to harness the talents and energies of its young people and equip them with the knowledge and skills to thrive in a technologically complex, globalised world.  This requires substantial reform of the education system, and the Embassy and British Council are working closely to support the Government in policy development, curriculum reform, teacher training and of course English language skills.

The British education system is known around the world for its excellent quality, academic integrity and high teaching standards. There is definitely a huge potential to further reinforce cooperation between our countries in this field, especially considering recent liberalisation of the higher education sector in Uzbekistan.

I am confident that we will keep expanding our cooperation in many areas, including global issues on the international level. As you know, in October 2020 Uzbekistan was elected to join the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UK is ready to support systematic implementation of human rights standards in Uzbekistan’s legislation and law enforcement practice. The UK is supporting the development of the Oliy Majlis’s Joint Commission on Human Rights and has encouraged Uzbekistan’s parliament to take a more active role in drafting and scrutinising human rights legislation. We look forward to closer parliamentary engagement.

Dunyo: You have been working in Uzbekistan for more than two years, since September 2019, and visited many regions of the country. What impressed you the most? How would you describe the main features of the country?

Tim Torlot: Uzbekistan is a country full of contrasts, a melting pot of ethnicities and cultural influences, a mix of modern and ancient. The landscapes are stunning; the architecture magnificent; the crafts astonishingly beautiful and the food scrumptious. Your hospitality is heartfelt and generous.  It is hard to say what impressed me the most, because every region has its own signature landmarks, historical sites, and its own charm.

Of course, I love the history and the grandeur of the Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand.  I feel like Uzbekistan is a country where nature is a significant part of national identity. I love hiking in your picturesque landscapes: mountains, rivers, forests.

And I love the surprises.  I think of Rishtan, a hidden gem in the Fergana Valley.  Behind the nondescript walls of modest houses in a small, remote town we discovered world class design and craftsmanship, with truly unique and exquisite ceramic art. 

And above all I think of the Savitsky Museum in Nukus, which we visited before travelling to the Aral Sea. The story of the creation of the museum’s collection of Karakalpak crafts and Soviet avant garde art alone justifies the visit.  But the paintings and sculptures are phenomenal and the museum’s curators do a wonderful job of making the most of the countless treasures in the collection. We will return, for more astonishing art and extraordinary stories…

All this has the potential to turn this country into a successful tourist destination – Uzbekistan has so much to offer visitors from all around the globe.  Because of the pandemic, the flow of tourists and businesspeople has sadly slowed. But I hope that soon more British visitors will again be able to discover Uzbekistan’s heritage and culture, as well as meet its hospitable people. Because, after all, the most important aspect of any bilateral relationship is the connections between ordinary people.

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