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Central Asia

EU trade relations with Central Asia. Facts, figures and latest developments.

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  • Central Asia
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  • Negotiations and agreements
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Central Asia is of geostrategic importance to the EU. The region represents a bridge to China,  Afghanistan and the Middle East. It is a source of significant energy imports for the EU.

Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

Central Asian countries share some common features: they are landlocked, their exports focus on raw materials, and they all face significant influence from neighbouring powers, namely Russia or China. Yet they significantly differ from one another in terms of wealth and trade volumes with the EU. Despite some economic growth in recent years, Central Asian countries remain characterised by a low level of economic diversification and a high dependence on a relatively small number of trade partners.

Three of the five Central Asian countries (Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) benefit from favourable access to the EU market, through the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) or GSP+. While Tajikistan meets the standard GSP criteria, the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan have also joined the EU’s GSP+ arrangement, which grants additional preferences. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as upper middle income-level economies, can no longer benefit from this scheme.

Two Central Asian countries are also members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU): Kazakhstan since 2010 and the Kyrgyz Republic since 2015. Uzbekistan became an EAEU observer in 2020.

Trade picture

EU trade with Central Asia has grown and the EU is now the region’s main trade partner, accounting for about a third of its overall external trade. Nevertheless, the total turnover of the EU's trade with Central Asia remains low.

The EU is the region's main trading partner, accounting for 23.6% of Central Asian countries' combined foreign trade in 2021. According to preliminary data for 2022, EU goods imports from Central Asia continue to increase (by 67% in 2022) and exports from the EU to Central Asia also grew (by 77%).

The EU is also the biggest foreign investor in Central Asia, with over 40% of cumulated investment in the region originating from the bloc. 

Negotiations for non-preferential enhanced bilateral partnership and cooperation frameworks (EPCAs) also support overall cooperation between the EU and Central Asia. 

  • Central Asian exports to the EU largely focus on a few commodities, particularly crude oil, gas, metals and cotton fibre.
  • EU exports are dominated by machinery and transport equipment, and other manufactured goods. Such products account for more than half of EU exports to the region.

The EU and Central Asia

The EU adopted a New Central Asia Strategy in 2019, which outlines the EU's strategic interests in the region and focuses on three pillars: increased resilience, regional cooperation, and prosperity.

The strategy proposes to forge a stronger and non-exclusive partnership with Central Asian countries for resilience and prosperity. It has since been complemented by the Global Gateway Strategy and the European Green Deal, which are also relevant for the EU’s relations with the region. Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and the ensuing challenge of preventing the circumvention of EU sanctions against Russia, while seeking even deeper and closer trade relations between the EU and Central Asian countries, will have to be handled in parallel.

The overall institutional framework for the EU's cooperation with the region is as follows:

  • The EU's bilateral trade relations with Kazakhstan are covered by an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) signed in Astana on 21 December 2015, which entered into force on 1 March 2020. The agreement constitutes the first of its kind signed by the EU with one of its Central Asian partners. It elevates relations between the EU and Kazakhstan to a new level. In May 2023, the Commission received a mandate from the Council to negotiate a Protocol to the EPCA with Kazakhstan as regards the protection of Geographical Indications (GIs) for agricultural products and foodstuffs, wines and spirits.

  • The EU and Kyrgyzstan initialled an EPCA in 2019 which remains to be concluded and signed. Member States agreed on 29 March 2023 to move forward with the EPCA as a mixed agreement and invited the Commission to present proposals for its signature and conclusion at the earliest possible time (after the Council has defined the scope of provisional application of the agreement). 

  • The EPCA with Uzbekistan was initialled in July 2022 and is currently undergoing ‘legal scrubbing’. 

  • On the basis of the negotiating directives adopted by the Council on 8 December 2022, negotiations for an EPCA with Tajikistan were launched in February 2023. The first round of negotiations with Tajikistan on the trade title of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement took place in Dushanbe on 1-2 June 2023. 

    Draft texts and negotiating round reports

  • A Partnership and Cooperation Agreement concluded with Turkmenistan in 1998 is yet to be ratified by all EU Member States. Pending ratification, an Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related matters entered into force on 1 August 2010. Other areas of cooperation remain based on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed with the Soviet Union in 1989 and subsequently endorsed by Turkmenistan.

  • The EU has concluded an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the Kyrgyz Republic, which is now pending signature.

  • The EU's Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) with Uzbekistan was initialled in July 2022. It is currently being prepared for signature.

    Draft texts and negotiating round reports

WTO membership

WTO membership of all the Central Asian countries is a pre-condition for closer trade and investment relations with the EU.

  • Kyrgyzstan has been a WTO member since 1998.
  • Tajikistan became a WTO member in 2013.
  • Kazakhstan became a WTO member in 2015.
  • In June 2019, Uzbekistan expressed a renewed commitment to join the WTO in the near future.
  • Turkmenistan was granted observer status in 2020, and acceded to the WTO on 23 February 2022.

Committees and Dialogues

The EU and Central Asia meet regularly to discuss issues and best practices and oversee the proper functioning of the agreement.

Trading with Central Asia

Latest news

  • News article

The EU will start applying preferential tariffs for products imported from Uzbekistan under this arrangement from 10 April 2021.

  • 3 min read