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Austria – Nigeria Relations – A Commentary

The following was originally published in Austria Times, penned by Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Mr. Emeka Abone:

From the very diplomatic ties that were developed in the early stages of our Independence over fifty years ago, Austria and Nigeria have been building a closer geopolitical relationship with each passing day.

Presently, with cautious yet undeterred optimism in mind and a historically documented long-term prognosis on Nigeria’s investment potential, Austria continues to take great strides in positioning itself as a pragmatically prosperous European trade colleague of Nigeria and West Africa for years to come.

Nigeria has emerged as one of Austria’s leading partners on the continent. From manufacturing to the construction of hospitals and schools, and to indeed our very culture, as witnessed in the ‘Austrian Laces – Nigerian Fashion’ forum held in Lagos, Austria has made an indelible imprint on the Nigerian socioeconomic fabric.

This year alone, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (AFEC) disclosed that the volume of trade between Nigeria and Austria has climbed to $1.4 billion USD. For Austria, this remarkable feat in the bilateral relationship no doubt took the skilful mobilization of their diplomatic machinery in order to inform and educate its business community and lead political stakeholders domestically and within the EU as to the prospects of doing business in Nigeria. This is considerably more commendable as having been undertaken at a time rife with would-be sensational causes for potential trepidation.

Nigeria looks to continue its own journey to better commit itself to sustainable business development and social responsibility in order to fortify this relationship and mutually benefit.

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Tri-lingual policy shows results

The policy outlined in the “Kazakhstan-2050” Strategy program to increase the number of citizens of Kazakhstan speaking three languages – Kazakh, Russian and English – is beginning to show results.  According to the Ministry of Education and Science, there are now 32 higher educational institutions in Kazakhstan where education is conducted in the three languages.  This now involves over 5,500 students. The improvement in tri-lingual education has been aided in the last two and a half years by an influx of more than 3,500 foreign teachers from Europe, the US and South-East Asia.

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Industry Ministry (MINT) plans closer cooperation of business and science

The Ministry of Industry and New Technologies (MINT) is developing a plan to make grants available for businesses which are prepared to cooperate with the scientific community to promote research projects.  The grants would be available for targeted technology programs, and would receive part-project funding.  Business would fund the rest, on the basis of private-public partnerships (PPP).  The first pilot schemes under the program are scheduled to be launched in 2014.

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Government discusses 3-year budget, 5-year socio-economic program

This week’s government meeting approved the national budget from 2014-2016 and the prediction of the socio-economic development of the country from 2014-2018. During the meeting, the Minister of Economy and Budget Planning, Yerbolat Dossayev, relayed the figures that his Ministry is expecting.  Real growth in the economy from 2014-2018, he said, is expected to be between 6.0 and 7.1%.  Much though, will depend on the increase in investments, the development in industrial-innovative and infrastructure projects as well as when oil from the Kashagan Field in the Caspian Sea will start to be refined.  The growth of consumer demand is also a key consideration.

Mr Dossayev mentioned that Kazakhstan’s GDP is expected almost to double from KZT 38.6 trillion in 2014 to KZT 65.9 trillion in 2018.  In the same period, the Ministry expects that the per capita GDP will rise from USD 14,600 to USD 24,000; and that annual inflation will be in the 6-8% bracket.

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Environment Minister inspects rocket crash site

Last week the Minister for the Protection of the Environment, Nurlan Kapparov, visited the site where on July 2 2013 a Russian-built Proton-M rocket crashed shortly after take-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.  Immediately after the rocket exploded and crashed to the ground, a government commission was established to deal with the clear-up operation.  The commission included representatives of the mayor’s office of the Kyzylorda Region where the rocket came down and Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, which launched the rocket.

Mr Kapparov declared that he was not satisfied with the results of the work to clear up the contamination of the site which the accident caused, nor with the speed with which the process was being carried out.  The representative of Roskosmos asked for a further 15 days to complete the detoxification process.  Mr Kapparov insisted that further research be carried out into the negative consequences which the crash may have had on the ecology and the health of the local population both in Baikonur and surrounding villages.  He also called for more urgency in the process of talks on the implementation of the ecological code of Kazakhstan on the territory of Baikonur.

 

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Agriculture Minister updates the President on harvest

President Nazarbayev held a meeting this week with the Agriculture Minister, Asylzhan Mamytbekov. The President noted that, as the harvest is drawing to a close in the southern regions of the country, over one million tons of grain has already been gathered. However, he said that he was aware that in the north of the country there had been some difficulties early on. He advised the Minister to ensure that there was strict control over the technical aspects of gathering the harvest.

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Prime Minister congratulates builders on Construction Day

The Prime Minister, Serik Akhmetov, met members of the construction trade this week as they celebrated Construction Workers’ Day. Mr Akhmetov said that the construction sector is playing a crucial part in helping to bring about the task set by President Nazarbayev to make Kazakhstan one of the most dynamically developing countries in the world. He pointed out that construction accounts for 6% of Kazakhstan’s GDP, and said that in many ways the pace of growth in this sector is an indication of the well-being of the whole country. Thanks to the “Affordable Housing-2020” program, in 2012 nearly 7m square meters of new housing was built, and almost half of that figure was achieved in the first half of this year.

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Prime Minister instructs ministries to ensure agricultural financing

The Prime Minister, Serik Akhmetov, this week instructed the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economic and Budget Planning to ensure that financing and the necessary controls would be in place for carrying out the “Agrobusiness-2020” program in 2014. He also instructed the government to ensure that all necessary laws were in order to assist the development of the agricultural sector towards 2020.

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Machine-builders meet the Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov

Members of the Machine-Building Trade Union this week discussed developments in their industry with the Prime Minister, Serik Akhmetov. The First Deputy Minister for Industry and New Technologies, Albert Rau, gave an account of the industry’s achievements to date this year. So far production has amounted to KZT 367bn.  If current trends continue this could equal USD 5bn worth of production by the end of the year. Machine-building has increased its share of the manufacturing market by 2% compared to last year, now accounting for 13.2% of all manufacturing, Mr Rau added.

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Government discusses housing and the harvest

The government heard this week from the Deputy Minister for Regional Development, Serik Nokin, about the pace of the “Affordable Housing-2020” project. “In the first six months of this year three million square meters of housing has been completed, which is 46% of the annual plan,” said Mr Nokin. He continued, “If previously we were building some 2,000- 2,500 apartments each year, then this year it is planned to make that 4,000.”

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Muslim Umiryaev, spoke about the pace of the 2013 harvest. By August 2, 830,000 tons of grain had already been harvested, a slight increase on this time last year. More than 67% of sowing was deemed “good”, with a further 30% “satisfactory”. This should result in an overall grain harvest of 16.3m tons, the Deputy Minister added.

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