It’s not called the ‘tunnel of doom’ for nothing.

Half-way through the Anzob tunnel which links the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, to second city Khudzand in the north, the cladding of the tunnel is replaced by bare rocks.  The surface becomes a pot-holed morass of broken concrete and projecting steel reinforcing rods.  Water cascades from above, flooding sections of roadway.

I’m on a visit to our Embassy in Tajikistan to explore trade and investment opportunities for British companies, including working with Turkish companies operating in Central Asia.  Government interlocutors tell me of strong economic growth – around 7.5% in 2012 – and measures to deregulate the economy and introduce new business-friendly legislation.

Business leaders and the donor community tell me there is more to do in terms of implementation of legislation in order to attract the kind of flagship investors which will demonstrate to the global business community that Tajikistan is a safe and stable place to invest.

My visit to Dushanbe and journey to Khudzand with Ambassador Robin Ord-Smith demonstrate both the immense touristic and business potential of Tajikistan and the country’s infrastructural and geographical challenges.

Tajikistan is spectacularly beautiful and consists of 93% mountains including the highest peak in the former Soviet Union. Many exciting infrastructure projects are under way, including a new all-season road crossing to China built by Turkish contractors and half-a-new dozen new bridges to Afghanistan funded by donors.  Local businesses say ‘the Chinese want our lemons and cherries’, including Tajikistan’s famous orange-coloured (and slightly orange-flavoured) lemons.

At the same time, Tajikistan faces challenges from long-running difficulties on its lengthy border with Uzbekistan to the west; and an airport in Dushanbe which needs fundamental reform if it is to become an attractive gateway to the country for international investment.

Training is part of the answer:  The UK Government, including through a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) team, is supporting training for local businesses including women entrepreneurs, car mechanics and solar panel and window manufacture to boost entrepreneurship and skills.  There are bold plans for a railway to Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and to upgrade the road to China.  There is huge hydroelectric power potential.

These are exciting times in Tajikistan with big opportunities as well as challenges.  Our Embassy in Dushanbe and our trade and investment team here in Istanbul stand ready to help British entrepreneurs wanting to do business there or investors from Tajikistan heading for the UK.  You can contact Farukh Sultonov via farukh.sultonov@fco.gov.uk in Dushanbe or Ally Gündüz via ally.gunduz@fco.gov.uk in Istanbul.  We look forward to hearing from you.

And the Anzob tunnel is due to be refurbished very soon!

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