U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews delivered remarks at the 4th Annual Kazakhstan-U.S. Convention, which brings public and private sector leaders from both countries together to strategize about the future of the U.S.-Kazakhstan bilateral trade and investment relationship.

During his remarks, Deputy Secretary Andrews discussed his recent visit to Astana and reflected on the successful diplomatic and commercial ties forged between the United States and Kazakhstan in the 25 years since its independence. The Deputy Secretary also highlighted ongoing efforts at the Commerce Department to work with Kazakhstan to build a more welcoming climate for business and investment in advance of the upcoming Astana Expo 2017.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Margery, for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here today. Let me start by thanking Ambassador Umarov and the Embassy of Kazakhstan for bringing us all together for the 4th Annual Kazakhstan-U.S. Convention. I feel like I’ve been here for all of them. I am honored to speak today about the Department of Commerce’s efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Kazakhstan commercial relationship. We value you as partners. Your success is important to the United States. And we want to work with you to ensure that trade between our two countries continues to grow. In fact, as we reflect on the progress of the last 25 years, it is important that we strive for an even more productive future.

2016 has been a seminal year for Kazakhstan. Not only are we celebrating 25 years of Kazakhstan’s independence, but we also celebrating a quarter century of U.S.-Kazakhstan diplomatic relations. The United States was the first to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence in December 1991. And from the beginning, our relationship has been rooted in commerce – in the commercial relationships between our two countries that grow deeper and more prosperous every year. Take, for example, Chevron’s commitment to TCO which dates back to 1993. It was accompanied by the entry of a dozen U.S. firms into the Kazakhstan market. At the Department of Commerce, we take pride in the business relationships that we have helped to create for our companies in Kazakhstan. We have seen how U.S. industry has supported Kazakhstan through its transition from a centrally-planned economy into a player in global commerce.

Today, many American firms operate in Kazakhstan. They not only bring investment and management expertise, but also new technologies and a commitment to inclusive growth. The American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan, for example, now has over 200 members committed to supporting a fair and competitive business climate across the country. This is good for the people of Kazakhstan, but also a sign that after 25 years of diplomatic and commercial ties, Kazakhstan is poised for even greater success in the decades to come.

I have seen these opportunities firsthand. This past July, I visited Astana to meet with government officials and members of the business community. I heard about Kazakhstan’s plans to become a regional commercial hub and described how American companies can – and should – be part of this effort. Today, the Kazakhstani people have created a vibrant economy, integrating generations of cultural traditions with modern amenities, technologies, and services. I saw this everywhere I went, from the Khan Shatyr mall in Astana to the Bayterek Tower. In my meetings with the Government of Kazakhstan, I was impressed by officials’ commitment to creating a better business and investment climate.

We discussed the many opportunities made possible by Kazakhstan’s privatization efforts and the planned Astana International Financial Center. I was also encouraged by Kazakhstan’s extensive engagement with the international community, including its recent WTO membership, upcoming non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and continuing aspirations to join the OECD. Let me be clear: The United States remains committed to working with Kazakhstan to create an economic climate that enables foreign and domestic businesses to thrive.

As we celebrate our past progress, we remain focused on the future. Over the last few years, I have had the privilege to meet with key policy-makers and business executives around the world. As my time as Deputy Secretary of Commerce comes to a close, one of my key take aways is that capital is more mobile than ever in the 21st century. That countries must compete for foreign investment – not just against their neighbors, but against the entire world. Companies can – and do – invest anywhere. To win in this environment, it is not enough to make your market slightly more attractive. Rather, countries must do everything they can to be as attractive as possible.

Kazakhstan is no different. It has tremendous resources; its location at the center of the historical Silk Road; and its ability to link East and West today are advantages that few countries can match. Yet, it is hard to realize the benefits of these comparative advantages when companies still confront basic business climate challenges. That is why we continue to seek reforms that strengthen the rule of law, ensure fairness and judicial independence, and eliminate corruption and legal uncertainty. Above all, companies are looking for transparency and predictability, whether that is in licensing requirements, work permit regulations, tax treatment, intellectual property protections, or customs tariff applications.

Our team at the Department of Commerce stands ready to support your reform agenda and the continued modernization of Kazakhstan’s economy. For example, our Commercial Law Development Program organizes Expert Level Regional Working Groups on standards, customs issues, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures. The U.S. Patent and Trade Office has also organized a series of Judicial Workshops. But improving the business climate in Kazakhstan must be a true partnership – one that brings out the very best in our governments and private sectors. Put simply, economic reforms that promote greater investment in Kazakhstan are in all of our best interests. The Kazakhstani people benefit from the creation of new jobs, improvements to infrastructure, and the many other economic opportunities spurred by greater collaboration.

We share the Government of Kazakhstan’s view that supporting the development of small and medium-sized enterprises is essential to health of the overall economy. Our Special American Business Internship Training Program, or SABIT, provides Eurasian business leaders the opportunity to learn about U.S. best practices, build partnerships, and strengthen their professional networks. Since the program’s inception 25 years ago, SABIT has trained over four hundred Kazakhstani business professionals. Earlier this year, our program for Kazakhstani IT Startup Entrepreneurs brought aspiring business owners to Washington, New York City, and Silicon Valley to meet with incubators, venture capitalists, and technology leaders.

Looking to the future, we are thrilled that an implementing partner has been selected for the USA Pavilion at the Astana Expo 2017. And we are confident that APCO, its partners, and sponsors will create an excellent experience for visitors. The U.S. Pavilion will highlight the diversity of American culture, the strength of our educational institutions, and the contributions of U.S. businesses to Future Energy and your other efforts. The Expo represents a unique opportunity for Kazakhstan as well. It is your opportunity to show the world the progress you have made over these last 25 years – from your rich culture to a budding innovation ecosystem to your multi-vector foreign policy successes. It will also be a chance to show the direction Kazakhstan will head in these next few years.

I want to thank Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan Rosenblum, and their team who have worked tirelessly with the Embassy of Kazakhstan, the U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association, and Expo officials to make the United States Pavilion a reality. Our companies will be well represented because of your efforts.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our tremendous Commercial Service professionals both in Almaty and here in Washington. At the Commerce Department we have teams covering almost every market – few are as talented and as committed than our Kazakhstan Team. Pat Cassidy and his team in Almaty, along with Matt Edwards, Danica Starks, and Becca Dash here in Washington work daily with U.S. companies to enter the Kazakh market or grow their businesses in Kazakhstan. Take Spancrete, a Wisconsin-based company that manufactures precast concrete products and machinery. During my visit, I saw how Our Commercial Service office in Almaty provided on-the-ground guidance to help the firm find local partners to open two production facilities in Kazakhstan to supply materials for the government’s affordable housing program. These success stories only encourage more American business leaders to explore the opportunities for innovation and collaboration in Kazakhstan.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, we should stop to consider how far we have come in our relationship over the last 25 years. We have come a long way and our businesses and government leaders – most of which came before me – deserve a lot of credit. But we should also be hopeful for the future. I have seen our business relationship build closer ties between our two countries firsthand. I have heard Kazakhstan’s senior officials describe their goals for the future. And I have worked closely with our teams on both sides of this important relationship. It is for this reason that I know tomorrow will be even better than today. So let’s commit ourselves to do what’s necessary for our bilateral relationship to reach its full potential. I look forward to tracking your progress in the years ahead and thank you for the opportunity to be here today.