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Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan: Smugglers Own the Night

An Uzbek backhoe digs a trench in July 2010 to mark the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border. To stem the flow of illegal and smuggled goods in the Ferghana Valley region across the borders from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Uzbek government has in the past few years built miles of barbed-wire fences and even dug trenches in many places. (Photo: David Trilling)

During the day, when Uzbek border guards patrol its streets, Mingdon is a sleepy Ferghana Valley town. But after night falls, Mingdon, a hamlet of 10,000 on Uzbekistan’s frontier with Kyrgyzstan, turns into a smugglers’ paradise.

From Kyrgyzstan come bundles of Chinese clothing, crates of electric Chinese appliances and an endless parade of Chinese comestibles. From Uzbekistan, smugglers ship fresh fruits and vegetables into Kyrgyzstan by the truckload.

The smugglers are dodging the most restrictive trade regime in Central Asia. Uzbekistan’s protectionist tariffs are designed to shield domestic manufacturers (which are state-affiliated) from competition. Most consumer goods, including food, clothing, appliances, and motor vehicles, are taxed at rates ranging from 40 percent to 100 percent.

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Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan: Smugglers Own the Night

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