Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Despite its 220 active goldmines and proven gold reserves of 2,000 tonnes, Kyrgyzstan exports only 25 tonnes of gold a year. But now the landlocked former Soviet republic is attracting investors from the United Arab Emirates, whose businessmen are flocking to the Central Asian nation with technology and money to bid on gold concessions.
After ethnic violence claimed the life of dozens of people in 2010 and led to the downfall of then President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan is now trying to develop its most important resource, gold. However, with a territory that is 96 per cent mountainous, mines tend to be very remote. Worse still, many of them rely on antiquate, Soviet-era technology and many are foreign-owned.
The main mine is in Kumtor, 350 km southeast of the capital Bishkek. It is owned by a Canadian company, Centerra Gold. However, the government plans to nationalise it to increase its revenues and thus cope with a serious economic crisis, major social instability and a drought in agriculture.
"We are looking at foreign investment in gold mines where the UAE is well positioned to invest," Kubanychbek Omuraliev, Kyrgyz Consul General, told GulfNews. "A number of our mines have been tendered out for concession bids, in which UAE companies could participate."
More than 7,000 Kyrgyz professionals already live and work in the UAE's oil fields. However, only a handful of them are businessmen are engaged in trade.
Bilateral trade between the UAE and Kyrgyzstan reached US$ 300 million, 200 million in Kyrgyz exports and 75 million in imports of machinery and equipment.
"The potential for two-way trade and investment between the two countries is huge and we want to expand our trade ties with the UAE," the consul said.
For him, bilateral trade will boost the local economy, not only in gold mining but also tourism and services.