Fruit and veg rots on Kyrgyz-Kazakh border as EEU threatens to unravel

Hundreds of tons of vegetables and fruit that have been piling up at customs posts on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border  are beginning to rot in what could soon prove to be a fitting metaphor for the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the trading bloc set up in 2014 with Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus as founder members and which Kyrgyzstan joined a year later. 
Relations between the two former Soviet satellite states started turning sour at the beginning of the month after Kazakhstan introduced stringent border, migration, customs, phytosanitary and veterinary inspections, leading to lorries backed up as much as 11km from the border. Crossing the border can now take  hours and sometimes even days, if Kazakh officials decide to conduct a full inspection of a vehicle’s cargo.
Around 20% of Kyrgyzstan’s total exports go to Kazakhstan and roughly the same to Russia all of which also have to pass through Kazakhstan given the lack of a direct border between the two. The new controls are consequently having a detrimental impact on a significant proportion of all Kyrgyz exports, leading the country’s outgoing President 
Almazbek Atambayev to question the benefits of EEU membership just before he stood down earlier this month.“We placed too much hope on the EEU,” he said. “An alliance cannot be reliable, which depends on the whim of one person, even if it is the greatest man in the world.” He did not specify if he was talking about  Russian President Vladimir Putin or his Kazakh counterpart, President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
For its part, Kazakhstan accuses Kyrgyzstan of trying to export substandard goods or to smuggle goods in from China with which it shares an 868 km  border and which is becoming an increasingly important source of FDI; in 2013, a $300m refinery underwritten by the Chinese Petroleum Company started operations as part of a drive to reduce Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on Russian processed fuels. The authorities in Bishkek are also hoping to attract Chinese investment for the development of its hydroelectric power stations after they  terminated an agreement with  Russia for their construction last year due to complications over funding arrangements. 
Plans are additionally being drawn up for the construction of a railway running from China to Uzbekistan via Kyrgyzstan which would give it access to the Pacific Ocean and strengthen links with Iran and Turkmenistan, with some $3bn earmarked for the Kyrgyz leg that is due to run from the Chinese border at Kashi towards Tashkent. As this project suggests, Beijing sees Kyrgyzstan as a small but useful link in its Belt and Road initiative, and if the stand-off with Kazakhstan continues, it can only encourage Bishkek to pivot further eastward.

Source: Gazeta