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B5+1, the US renovated interest on business cooperation with Central Asia

Following a meeting with the Central Asian officials held in Almaty in mid-March, the United States has launched the B5+1 initiative, as a new US tool to extend long-term cooperation with the five Central Asian republics, mainly focused on the business dimension (B stands for business).
In the American perspective, the B5+1 forum has been conceived as an upgrade of a US-Central Asian political cooperation platform, known as the C5+1, established by President Obama in 2015: C5+1 represents a regular format of political dialogue, aimed at providing peace and prosperity in the region as well as promoting a sustained cooperation to address the region’s complex challenges and emerging threats. The main targets of C5+1 are: to improve economic resilience, to support sustainable development, to enhance security and to combat climate change and promote peace (The White House, C5+1 Leaders’ Joint Statement, September 21, 2023).
In this new B5+1 initiative, US focuses on trade and business, potentially downplaying the relevance of the rule of law dimension vis-à-vis- regional connectivity. The B5+1 is prioritizing five economic sectors for development: trade and logistics, agribusiness, e-commerce, tourism and renewable energy (United States launches initiative to foster Central Asian connectivity, Eurasianet, March 14, 2024).
This initiative shows the Biden Administration’s strong commitment to legitimize the C5+1 format as the main forum of dialogue with Central Asian countries. During the last meeting in September 2023, the format was elevated to the Presidential level for the first time.
Source: Baku Research Institute/SWP
Moreover, the promotion of the Middle Corridor project – as alternative trade route to the Silk Road – was one of the main debated topics, highlighting the need to attract infrastructural investments to develop transport networks, which could also open interesting opportunities for American companies.

The USA attempts to pose a geopolitical challenge for the traditional “Sino-Russian condominium”, considering the Beijing and Moscow’s pervasive footprint in Central Asia. Indeed, in terms of economic cooperation Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Russian-leaded Eurasian Economic Union (based on a common market and custom union with external tariffs for not members), while all five Central Asian republics have joined the inclusive-Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, becoming recipients of huge investments to develop transport infrastructures and trade cooperation.
Nevertheless, US’s growing attention to the business dimension and to promote a growing role of the private sector will be an attractive opportunity for Central Asian governments, which are always looking for new investors and try to undertake a multi-vector foreign policy, mainly aimed to involve new partners to reduce economic, security and political dependence on Russia and China.

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