In Uzbekistan, French groups are betting on the country’s economic openness

Just re-elected on October 24 for a second five-year term, Uzbek President Chavkat Mirziyoyev is attempting a delicate diversification maneuver between Russia, which wants to attract him to its Eurasian Economic Union, and the Chinese hyperpower. Developing in quasi-autarky until 2016, the country of 35 million inhabitants thirsts for new technologies and modern infrastructures. The call for air was quickly perceived by the French Suez and Veolia.

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The first has already signed two co-management contracts for the water and sanitation network, first in 2019 with Samarkand, the second city of the country, then in 2020 with the capital, Tashkent, for an amount of 142 million euros. euros. Shortly before the presidential election, Veolia was awarded, on September 29, a contract for the operation and maintenance of the Tashkent district heating network for a period of thirty years and a turnover of 13.4 billion euros. euros. Finding common ground between French commercial culture and that, still very Soviet, of senior Uzbek officials was difficult.

“It is a social enterprise, therefore politically sensitive since it is a question of supplying heating and hot water to a population, in a city with a harsh winter climate. The town hall wanted to get rid of a hot potato by subcontracting it, confides to World a source close to the negotiations. I am not sure that the mayor understood the principle of the contract, but what is reassuring is the support of the Uzbek finance ministry. ” Veolia will equip all homes with individual meters and has ten years to separate the hot water circuits from that of the heating, the Soviet design of which causes enormous energy loss.

Almost a single brand of car

The award of the public contract to Veolia raised questions in the business community, some members of which told us that they were surprised at not having seen a call for tenders. “The procedure is called the“ swiss challenge ” [défi suisse] in business jargon, continues the source of World. The initiative comes from Veolia, which approached [en 2018] the town hall of Tashkent, which then launched a call for tenders to which no one responded on time, except for a South Korean company, whose proposal did not fit into the specifications. »

For economist Akhmed Rahmanov, “This contract constitutes a test for the Uzbek investment climate, because it is for this country the first public-private partnership. Everyone will observe if things are going well ”. It is not won, because the Uzbek scourge is the capture of economic assets by a small group of individuals close to power.

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In Uzbekistan, French groups are betting on the country’s economic openness