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Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, is not noted for its mild climate. In fact it is amongst the world’s coldest capitals, with temperatures regularly below minus 30 in the winter. But at the centre of the city a huge atrium houses dozens of palm trees, surrounded by students and professors going about their business.
We’re at the Nazarbayev University, an elite institution founded in 2010 to advance education and research in Kazakhstan. The language of instruction is English. University College London (UCL) is the chosen partner in the Centre for Preparatory Studies and the School of Engineering. The atrium is designed to help people move between faculties during the cold winter months.
Kazakhstan is home to numerous British companies. Some, such as BG, Shell and Rio Tinto, are drawn by the country’s huge mineral wealth – forecast investment by 2020 in the hydrocarbons sector alone is estimated at over £60 billion. But there are also many others, including Haileybury School, which runs two English-language schools in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, and in Astana. BAe systems also owns 49% of the successful aviation company Air Astana.
I’m here with British Ambassador David Moran and UK Trade and Investment CEO Nick Baird to explore commercial and investment opportunities relevant to British companies and the scope for Kazakh companies to invest in the UK. As UKTI Regional Director for Turkey, South Caucasus and Central Asia I’m keen to provide support for British and Turkish companies working together in third markets across the region from our UKTI hub in Istanbul.
The gleaming city of Astana, rising from the steppes, is an impressive symbol of the commercial opportunities in a country which, with a population of 16 million, is the 9th largest in the world. Much of the construction work has been carried out by Turkish contractors – an area offering potential for UK companies wishing to offer skills, experience and expertise to potential Turkish partners.
One example of British design excellence in Astana is the ‘tallest tent in the world’, Khan Shatyr, designed by British architects Foster & Partners. This features an indoor beach designed to be enjoyed during the country’s chilly winter as well as a branch of British store Debenhams. HMA David Moran will be hosting a “Shopping is GREAT” retail event and fashion show there on 26 October. I have not yet established whether the Khan Shatyr contains any palm trees but look forward to visiting it on a future occasion.