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23.06.2010
Activism and Policy

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Discussion on Turkmenistan at Carnegie

The world's leading energy companies are camped out in Ashgabat waiting for the goverment to make good on its pledge to diversify its exports in a new «multi-vector policy» that will prevent dependency on any one route to market.

At the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs on June 21, Prof. Alexander Cooley, Associate Professor of International Relations at Barnard College at Columbia University and Farid Tuhbatullin, head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, participated in a panel discussion titled «Activism and Policy: Prospects for Change in Turkmenistan.» Carnegie will be putting up audio, video and transcript of the meeting soon, so watch this space for a link.

Farid Tuhbatullin spoke about his efforts to gather and publish information from inside Turkmenistan, and the role of a human rights group that stays out of political opposition, even as the Turkmen government at times forces it to engage in protest because of its tactics. People inside Turkmenistan take the risk to send out information on their own, and Tuhbatullin's website chrono-tm.org provides a home for the stories of the Turkmen people that are blocked from their own heavily state-controlled media and tend to be overlooked by the Western press. Tuhbatullin recounted how he had raised the cases of Turkmen students denied permission to leave for study abroad last year, and met with State Department officials in Washington before their trip to Ashgabat last week for bilateral talks, and is awaiting the outcome.

Prof. Cooley talked about how international movements for social change had successfully challenged businesses to improve their practices in a number of countries; an example of a successful campaign was the international movement to draw attention to Uzbekistan's use of child labor in its cotton industry, which had compelled some companies to stop buying cotton from Uzbekistan or using Uzbek cotton in their products.

With Turkmenistan, where there has been less trade and the society is very closed, it has been more of a challenge, but even so, activists have succeeded in getting across their message. For example, due to the outcry of French human rights groups about the abusive practices of the Turkmen government, as well as a film about the fawning practices of Western firms that translated the cult book Ruhnama invented by past dictator Sapurmurat Niyazov, the French company Bouygues, which has built many of the large white-marbled government palaces in Ashgabat, was compelled to mute portrayal of relations with the government on its corporate website. Daimler was caught giving bribes to the Turkmen government in the form of expensive free cars, and was forced to pay a civil fine in a U.S. court. The transaction cost can be raised for businesses concerned about their image when they do business with oppressive regimes.

The world's leading energy companies are camped out in Ashgabat waiting for the goverment to make good on its pledge to diversify its exports in a new «multi-vector policy» that will prevent dependency on any one route to market. While American petroleum companies and vehicle manufacturers lined up to see President Berdymukhamedov last week, it is not clear how much they will really accomplish in Ashgabat, which has steadfastly denied land drilling permits except to the Chinese National Petroleum Company and doled out off-shore permits only to the German gas company RWE, the Malaysian company Petronas, Dragon Oil, part-owned by the government of Dubai, and Wintershall of Germany. The last three together invested USD 2.2 billion in 2009.

By contrast, the total U.S. trade balance with Turkmenistan is only USD 213 million last year, and despite the eager presence of U.S. companies in Ashgabat, it is not clear what deals may emerge. The U.S. Investment Climate Statement of 2008, not updated since, yields a grim picture of prospects in Turkmenistan:

The government regularly proclaims its wish to attract foreign investment, but its state-control mechanisms and restrictive currency-exchange system have created a difficult foreign-investment climate. Historically, the most promising areas for investment are in the oil and gas, agricultural and construction sectors. Even in these areas, companies must conduct extensive due diligence. The lack of established rule of law, inconsistent regulatory practices, and unfamiliarity with international business norms are major disincentives to foreign investment.

Источник :: EurasiaNet
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