Uzbekistan, only one of two double-landlocked countries in the world (the other being Lichtenstein), is a country rich in history, heritage, culture, diversity and opportunity. This article is the impression of Axco's Teresita O'Shea following a recent trip to the country:
Uzbekistan is slowly emerging from the clutches of Soviet-era domination and is determined to do it their way. For a start, the country has made it easier for visitors to enter. They have done this by doing away with the need for visas if a visit is less than 30 days and expanding the number of countries from about 12 to 45 entitled to this benefit.
On the surface, agriculture was Uzbekistan's main industry. Interestingly, gold-mining has now replaced cotton production, which was prominent under Soviet rule. Car production and assembly, energy and petroleum products are also now significant contributors to the country's GDP.
There is a young, capable, educated population who will want to remain in their country and who, it feels, will bring about change and advancement.
The current President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has made efforts to bring Uzbekistan into the broader financial world and was entertaining overseas presidents and prime ministers during my trip. Additionally, foreign business executives are more frequently making visits to the country to promote their goods and services.
Business opportunities abound in every sector from industry to agriculture, engineering and construction to 'softer' areas like technology, hospitality, financial and the service sector. Eventually, there will be a growing middle class which will require enhanced products and services. This growth will, in turn, lead to potential demand for insurance. It probably still has to be seen how this materialises under the new President.
Uzbekistan felt like a country that is concentrating on the future.
Notwithstanding the previous, it is notable that AM Best's Country Risk Tier assigns a 'CRG 5' rating to the country. The suggestion is that Uzbekistan has an unpredictable and opaque political, legal and business environment, with limited or non-existent capital markets. The rating also stipulates social instability and the nascent insurance industry.
While this may be the current situation, the people of Uzbekistan seem keen to make progress.
Please note, this is a purely personal reflection and does not necessarily reflect Axco’s position. To find out more about Axco's Insurance Market report on Uzbekistan, please contact www.axcoinfo.com.