For all the ceremony that marked Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Eurasian Economic Union, not much appears to have changed on the border with the only neighboring fellow member, Kazakhstan.
Speaking at a press conference on August 13, Damira Dootoalieva, chairman of the central committee of the Kyrgyzstan Traders Union, said a visit to the border had revealed that Kazakh officials are still not letting goods pass through unhindered.
“You can take across two or three bags, but large-scale cargo still cannot be transported into Kazakhstan. A lot of obstacles are being put in the way by the Kazakhs, including by their traffic police,” Dootoalieva said.
Dootoalieva said that a Porter Nissan van carrying goods from Kyrgyzstan was seized on the Kazakhstan side of the border of August 12, only hours after an inaugural ceremony attended by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“For about three hours, we tried to get it released. As to how we did that, you understand how these things are done,” Dootoalieva said, adding that money exchanged hands.
When the Kazakh customs officials were asked on what grounds the van had been stopped, they responded only that they would be remaining in place for another 100 days, Dootoalieva said.
At the same press conference, Sergei Ponomaryov, president of the Association of Markets, Trade Enterprises and Service Industries of Kyrgyzstan, said teething problems appeared to be down to poor preparation.
“There is a clear incompleteness in the work of middle management, in particular among government bodies,” he said. “I would like to take the opportunity to ask our prime minister, [Temir] Sariyev, to directly monitor the work of those agencies working at the border — the customs service and our tax officials, who are also working there for some unknown reason.”
Ponomaryov predicted that it would take a while for everybody to get used to the new arrangement.
“I think that it is inevitable that for about a month or a month-and-a-half, officials and businessmen — importers and exporters — will in practice be learning the new rules of doing business,” he said.
Indeed, it isn’t just exporters having trouble, as Dootalieva explained.
Transportation companies dealing with imports from countries like China and Turkey are refusing to take orders as they still do not know, now that Kyrgyzstan is a member of the EEU, what the real costs are going to be, Dootalieva said.
A lot of information campaigns kicking off after accession may begin to look like Bishkek has put the horse before the cart.
One example was Eurasian Economic Commission Minister Danil Ibrayev explaining on August 13 that exporters could experience trouble during sanitation and veterinary controls on borders between EEU countries.
Kazakhstan and Russia used those mutual checks to wage what amounted to a de facto trade war as both the countries’ government sought to protect their domestic producers.
“Abiding by phytosanitary requirements is absolutely mandatory to receive the necessary certificates. The certificates will be issued as soon as an assessment is received from an accredited laboratory. There are 19 such laboratories at the moment. Getting this certificate will allow for transporting goods to any country (in the EEU),” Ibrayev said.
But Ibrayev said that even with the all-EEU certificate in hand, exporters could face barriers from officials in certain countries citing ad hoc health concerns in line with their national legislation.
“We have said that this barrier needs to be removed. And I will personally bring this up at the next Eurasian Economic Commission meeting,” he said.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.