Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uzbekistan Moves Slowly toward Economic Reform MANAGING CHANGE IN CENTRAL ASIA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uzbekistan Moves Slowly toward Economic Reform MANAGING CHANGE IN CENTRAL ASIA

Article excerpt

LIKE most large Central Asian cities, Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, has a modern yet drab look - a legacy of the Soviet era. Broad, tree-lined avenues are largely devoid of traffic; the city center comprises mostly concrete, low-rise buildings with a dusty coating.

But the city's appearance is starting to change as Uzbekistan slowly asserts its independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Evidence of the transformation is tucked away on a sleepy street, where the glitzy Rank Xerox copy center stands.

One of the first Western companies to set up shop in Tashkent, Rank Xerox opened the store in late October after signing a $500,000 joint-venture deal with a government agency.

"This is going to be a big indicator for other Western investors," says Shukhrat Nasyrov, general director of the joint venture. "If Rank Xerox makes money, then others will follow."

Although Mr. Nasyrov and other Uzbek businessmen talk in animated tones about the transition to a market economy, the government of President Islam Karimov seems in no hurry to shed the centralized economic system imposed during Soviet rule.

Since many government economists say the top priority is maintaining political stability, wide-scale market reforms - including the introduction of an Uzbek currency to replace the Russian ruble - are not about to be introduced soon. State subsidies, particularly on staple food items, remain in place.

"We're working to achieve a market, but it will take time," says Akhat Agzamov, chief of the Uzbek Foreign Ministry's International Economic Section. "When the people have lived for 73 years under the Communist system, you can't change things in one year. The people must be protected from social earthquakes."

Attracting foreign investment is a big component of Uzbekistan's development strategy. …

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