Turkmenistan and Tajikistan plan to collaborate on creating a new transport corridor that will allow both countries to access Europe via the Caspian Sea. On May 10, in Dushanbe, with the participation of both heads of state, Emomali Rahmon and Serdar Berdimuhamedov, 24 new documents on cooperation were signed between the two countries (Aiatt.tj, May 13). Special attention was paid to the prospects of developing international transport corridors passing through the territory of both countries, including infrastructure development within the purview of the China-dominated Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program (Carecprogram.org, accessed June 14). Two of the signed documents relate directly to transportation, aiming to develop land and rail routes enabling access to the Caspian for Tajikistan. Additionally, a joint program to increase the flow of cargo and activate multimodal transportation from 2023 to 2025 was signed between Tajikistan’s Ministry of Transport and Turkmenistan’s Agency of Transport and Communication under the Cabinet of Ministers.
Furthermore, the signed documents consider creating favorable conditions for increased trade, including the use of preferential tariffs, increasing rail freight volumes and studying the possibility of organizing an international container train from Tajikistan to Europe via Turkmenistan as well as developing transit services to increase export volumes by rail and sea (Tajsohtmon.tj, May 16). In this, Dushanbe and Ashgabat intend to develop direct economic relations between various transport and logistics companies in both countries.
During negotiations with President Rahmon in Dushanbe, President Berdimuhamedov highlighted the transportation sector as an absolute priority for cooperation between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan (Newscentralasia.net, May 17). According to Berdimuhamedov, mutual efforts should focus on achieving one primary goal: the creation of powerful modern infrastructure that ensures the unification of the transport systems of Asia, Europe and the Middle East (Turkmenportal.com, May 10). Thus, it is no coincidence that Turkmenistan’s president stressed Ashgabat’s willingness to discuss Dushanbe’s interests in using the Turkmenbashi International Seaport on favorable terms.
In a wider context, Turkmenistan hopes to become a central transportation hub between Asia and Europe to ensure steady economic growth (see EDM, May 18). Tajikistan’s primary goal is to gain access to the world oceans and European markets, as well as to ensure that the trade routes between Europe and Asia pass through its territory, thereby bringing additional growth to its weak economy. Related: Russia’s Year-Round Arctic Trade Route Initiative
Moreover, Berdimuhamedov recently mentioned that Turkmenistan is ready to cooperate on developing a transportation corridor that would give Tajikistan access to global markets through the Caspian (Turkmenportal.com, May 10). While the full details are still unknown, Ashgabat and Dushanbe plan to coordinate in the fields of transport, transit and logistics for increased development along the east-west route and work with potential partners—including various European countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey—in regional and global organizations, specialized international groups and financial institutions (Oxu.az, May 11).
Furthermore, Berdimuhamedow highlighted the significance of the future Afghanistan–Turkmenistan–Azerbaijan–Georgia–Turkey (“Lapis Lazuli”) international transport corridor at a conference held in Ashgabat on May 3 and 4. The proposed route will elevate the regional transportation system to new heights (Turkmenportal.com, February 27). It seems that, due to instability in Afghanistan, there may be a need to develop an alternative corridor that runs through Tajikistan.
Not surprisingly, the South Caucasus countries are also interested in the implementation of transportation projects with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Recently, joint projects have been discussed between Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, as both Turkmenistan and Tajikistan can transport goods to Europe via Azerbaijan by utilizing the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway (Musavat.com, May 15). The rising significance of the South Caucasus in developing alternative channels for the Middle Corridor is contributing to increased income from transit fees for these countries. For example, it is expected that the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, as part of the Middle Corridor, will enhance regional integration and create fresh opportunities for trade—gaining greater importance as of late due to complications with the Russian-dominated corridors as a result of Moscow’s war against Ukraine (Turkmenportal.com, May 2).
In October 2022, for the first time, a transportation corridor from China to Turkey running through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran was presented at the international conference “Logistics and Its Advantages in Development of Transport Links between Tajikistan and the Countries of the Region” in Dushanbe. Cargo is expected to be delivered along this route by rail, land, sea and air (Asiaplustj.info, October 20, 2022). Tajikistan proposed creating a working group from among the representatives of the transportation departments of the countries participating in the initiative to achieve its intended goal (Tajsohtmon.tj, October 20, 2022). Currently, the participating governments are considering the implementation of electronic consignment notes, an electronic queueing system and other related possibilities. Additionally, a memorandum of cooperation was recently signed between Tajikistan’s Ministry of Transport and China. According to the document, the China–Tajikistan–Turkmenistan–Iran–Turkey multimodal transportation corridor is initially expected to transport goods from China to Kulob, one of Tajikistan’s five free economic zones (Turkmenportal.com, May 26).
Overall, the proposed transport corridor aims to ease access to European markets and provide an effective alternative link for goods coming from China to Europe. This becomes particularly significant amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has amplified the need for alternative transportation, energy and economic corridors. Consequently, the Central Asian states are expanding their participation in such development projects, recognizing the strong potential for steady economic gains. Both Turkmenistan and Tajikistan aspire to have these transportation routes traverse their territories, as they anticipate that such routes spanning three continents will boost their strategic significance. In truth, the development of an efficient and cost-effective transportation and logistics sector in Tajikistan will not only stimulate economic activity but also foster social and political cohesion. Moreover, Tajikistan’s advantageous geographical location can be leveraged to position itself as a key link in transportation corridors connecting the economies of the East and West, thereby creating enhanced prospects for trade, connectivity and sustained growth.
By Nuray Alekberli-Museyibova
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