But these infrastructure investments have to be backed by management and operation know-how, and this is where Singapore businesses can come in, said experts.
“What Singapore firms can bring to Kazakhstan is expertise in areas such as city and industrial park planning, and traffic control,” said Mr Dmitry Barkov, Asia-Pacific head of Sportmaster Group, a Singapore-listed sporting goods company with a presence in Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. He cited the successes of Changi Airport International, which acquired its fifth airport in Russia in February as part of a consortium, and Surbana Jurong, which has completed master planning projects in Kazakhstan.
Singapore’s strategic location along the Maritime Silk Road, which runs from China’s Quanzhou to Africa, and Kazakhstan’s position along the Silk Road Economic Belt make the countries natural partners, said Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Health Chee Hong Tat.
“Just as Singapore is the gateway to investing in South-east Asia, we believe that Kazakhstan is the gateway to investing in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Central Asia,” said Mr Chee, who is also board director of Business China, which organised the forum.
Kazakhstan’s location straddling the Chinese dragon and the Russian bear makes the understanding of its past importance, present position and future role critical for anyone who wants to do business in China, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, who is leading the delegation to China and Kazakhstan.
Singapore is now exploring the feasibility of a free trade agreement with the EAEU, which besides Kazakhstan consists of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus.
Most advanced ex-Soviet state in Central Asia
Kazakhstan, the ninth-largest country in the world by land mass, is the most advanced of the former Soviet states in Central Asia.
The country of 18 million people is much larger in size than the other four Central Asian countries and has the biggest economy, accounting for 60 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product.
The other Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan make up the other 40 per cent.
Kazakhstan’s main economic driver is natural resource extraction, but its services sector has been growing. The country has the world’s ninth-largest proven oil reserves and is the largest producer of uranium.
Last year, bilateral trade in goods between Singapore and Kazakhstan amounted to S$23.6 million. These included S$18.7 million worth of exports to Kazakhstan,comprising mainly lubricating oil, floating docks and magnetic stripe cards used for things like credit cards. Meanwhile, imports from Kazakhstan totalled S$4.9 million, mainly in petroleum oils, unwrought zinc alloys and chromium trioxide.
There are at least 16 Singapore firms with a presence in Kazakhstan including Educare, supported by Temasek Foundation, which provides training and teaching workshops to educators, and urban development consulting firm Surbana Jurong.