— In April UK Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron paid a visit to all Central Asian countries and Mongolia. For Uzbekistan, this was the first visit of such a high level since 1997. Prior to the visit he stated: “Central Asia is at the epicenter of some of the biggest challenges we face.” What are those challenges?

— That was a truly historic visit by Lord Cameron. 27 years is too long between foreign secretaries, so he came back four days later in that week as well. We had a really symbolic and historic visit, but one which focused on some key practical outcomes.

In terms of these challenges, your geography is difficult, your geopolitics is difficult. When we look at where Uzbekistan is, where Central Asia is, you have some very big international issues on your borders. You’ve got Afghanistan, you’ve got Russia to the north, China to the southeast, you’ve got Iran nearby. You’re doubly landlocked. You’ve got increasing difficulties with climate change. You have a rapidly growing population, which is a blessing in so many ways, but also gives challenges in terms of your economic development, in terms of how you provide for.

So there are genuine challenges. Some of these challenges are shared challenges, particularly around the rules-based international system, respect for the UN charter, climate change, economic development, and growth. There are some areas where we could help the president’s reform program, there’s so much we can do together.

— The UK Parliament’s Foreign Committee called on deepening cooperation with the region of Central Asia in its report, stating: “5 countries of CA are often overlooked by the UK policymakers”. The visit of foreign secretary was also probably an outcome of these discussions. What’s driving the UK’s growing interest in the Central Asian region? Is it only related to Russia’s war in Ukraine or are there any other objective reasons for that?

— When the foreign secretary was considering coming to Central Asia, obviously we provided advice. And it was on the back of visits by trade minister, the minister for armed forces James Heappey, minister Docherty to the region. So we’ve had an uptick in ministerial visits, and that’s just the natural progression for us. Because as we said before, Central Asia matters.

We advised the foreign service to look at the president’s reform agenda. Look where the country was at the end of 2016, and look where it is now. You’re on a dynamic journey at the moment. The reform progress is impressive and fast.

And you have growing pains. So are there areas where we can help you sustain your economic growth, build fairer society, how can we help with our experience on climate change, on support for women and girls, on support for your territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.

But more than that, we can learn from you what is happening in Afghanistan. How can we work together to help build a more stable, fairer society there? What about other influences in the region? How can we help make sure they don’t damage the reform process, and your democracy and stability, how can we work together on that?

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— Many countries like the USA, Japan, China or the EU were involved in a multilateral format of cooperation with the countries of the region, but the UK didn’t try the C5+1 format yet. According to Parliament’s report, it is recommended to hold a C5+UK meeting in 2024, can you share any details on this upcoming multilateral meeting, in terms of format or possible dates?

— I can tell you that we’re very receptive to how Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian countries feel about this format. If it is format which works for you, then we’re very interested in it. And indeed, Lord Cameron went back hearing very clearly that the CA+ format is something which could work well for yourselves, and the other four Central Asian countries. So we have taken that on board. The foreign secretary liked the idea. We’re looking for options to present a proposal back to yourselves, which would involve some very senior level contacts.

— So it will happen, but there are negotiations taking place?

— So the recommendation is that we should do more on this format. But also listening to your government and other governments in the region about what’s best for you and when works. So expect to hear more about this in the next few months.

— Going back to the parliamentary report, it was also mentioned that renewable energy should be one of the main topics of discussion between the UK and the countries of the region. Why do you think it’s important?

— I mentioned already the importance of climate change. This is an issue we are all facing. Before coming here I met with Uzbek academics in universities in UK, including at Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory, who told me they are working on what happens if crops in Uzbekistan have to survive under 50 degree temperatures. That’s really difficult.

We’re sharing our best research to make sure that your agricultural production has the technology, the best research available to help you transition into a warmer world. That warmer world is something which threatens us all, our own security. And as we look at climate change, that’s not just about food supply or water supply. It’s also about tensions between the regions.

I and my government have really been impressed since President Mirziyoyev came to power, how that has brought Central Asia together in a way which wasn’t happening before 2016. Central Asian format, which you mentioned before, is in a genuine spirit of connectivity and partnership and that’s led by shared water resources, shared energies and bringing it not as a source of tension but as a source of partnership.

So we’re looking at where we can help on that. Specifically in light of foreign secretary’s visit we had some announcements. And one of those is an inclusive growth fund on green technologies, green growth.

— Investment environment is one of the areas that needs to be improved in Central Asia. And I would like to ask how would improving regional trading infrastructure and regional trading policies could support Central Asian countries in terms of integration, and in particular, to help Uzbekistan to improve its investment environment. And what role can the UK play in this?

— A lot of the discussion between the foreign secretary and foreign minister Saidov was around connectivity and how UK and Uzbekistan could work in partnership on your infrastructure projects. There’s discussion about the Samarkand-Tashkent second high speed rail. There’s talk about toll roads, international airports in the regional.

Your economy is growing over 6% forecast this year. Really impressive. You have hundreds of thousands, close to one million 18 year olds coming into the job market each year. They need jobs. They need employment. For that your economy can’t rely on the traditional Soviet model. You have to modernize your economy and you’re making huge steps on that: digitalization, e-commerce, fintech, and broadening your agricultural, mining sectors. These are all areas where we can help, whether it’s access to capital markets in the UK, whether it’s supporting your small medium enterprises to grow, whether it’s privatization of your state owned enterprises.

And this all hooks into the economic reform program, where we have the “Effective Governance for Economic Development” program, where we work through the World Bank and with the Strategic Reforms Agency to make sure that you have the analysis and data to furnish better economic growth. So then you can look at what policies do we need, how do we work with the private sector.

And on the private sector, Britain can help with access to London and the UK and financial markets, capital markets and business partnerships and trading partnerships. This can help you build the economy, which is key to your independence and growth and provision for stability and jobs for the future generations. That’s a win for us in terms of investment, but also win for you, making sure you have the money, and expertise, and funding to bolster your economy.

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— Building on what you said about data and analysis, why is it important to base policies on data and analysis?

— If you don’t know the size of your population, how can you say what your GDP per capita is? If you don’t know, how much water there is each household is getting for how long each day and how many, how can you say whether it’s improved or not improved? If you don’t know how many children are coming out of the education sector each year, or going into it, how many schools do you need to build?

This takes years to plan: what jobs you need to provide for the future? Or if you’re investing only in cotton, you need to know what the demand for cotton is in the world markets, what it is for copper. What it is for a kind of the e-commerce skills you’re building, the service industry you’re building. What is the demand going forward? And you need to have plans in place to adapt to that.

It’s pretty key in terms of government delivery. When Lord Cameron was prime minister, he very much focused on data. When Tony Blair was prime minister, he set up Delivery Unit models, which actually focused on making sure that the central government understood key data throughout the system in the population to make sure that the policies were informed by the data.

If you want to improve in health, water, and education, three priorities which are pretty important in any country, but especially here at the moment, you need data to inform the policy to make sure that you can deliver for your citizens.

— By the way, there is a Delivery Unit nowadays in Uzbekistan, which is also doing pretty amazing work under the Strategic Reforms Agency.

Let’s go to bilateral relations now. During the visit to Uzbekistan, Mr. Cameron said, “We are not asking to choose between partners.” You mentioned the importance of supporting independence and sovereignty of the countries in the region. What can the UK offer to Uzbekistan and countries in the region to support their sovereignty and independence?

— To my core I’m a democrat. Britain is a P5 member of the UN, is dedicated to the UN charter, and the rules-based international system, that is based on territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence. When we see powers challenging these, we see that as a challenge to us all, to all democracies in the world. And we stand by them, as you see in Ukraine and indeed with Poland in 1939. We don’t stand by and watch these things happen. We are there to support a fairer, more inclusive world.

And when we see bullies try and take away those rights of sovereign countries, we look to stand in partnership with them and let them know “we are your friend”, and that is if they want us to. We are not here to make your life more difficult. You are the best people placed to know what are in your interests, how you need to work with your neighbors and those influences. But we are here to help. Not to make life more difficult. If anything we’re doing could make your life more difficult, talk to us, that is not our intention.

Practically, what that means is, if you want economic growth, come and talk to us. We have both public experience and public administration expertise like the Delivery Unit where we can share and help others have it too. And on business, clearly we have a lot of foreign direct investment capital ability and experience.

Education is a key offer we can help with, whether that’s English language, whether it’s transnational education. 11 British universities already have transnational education locations in country. I think four more about to come online and with more looking. That’s a big offer in terms of where you can learn either in the UK, where there’s no limit on visas for those who want to study in the UK, but equally, if that’s a bit more costly, you can study for British qualifications here in Uzbekistan.

So when we talk about those challenges, and ask not what you to choose, one thing I’m very conscious of is that your country is in a journey at the moment. My country is on a journey too. There are lots of areas where we can work in partnership and there’s shared challenges: climate change, education, women’s and girls education, growing our economies, AI, commerce. And at the same time though, there are those who would seek to limit our ability to act independently. And if we can help you to grow your independence, that seems like a pretty good day’s work to me.

— President Mirziyoyev in his recent speech mentioned that Uzbekistan is actively working with the UK to sign documents on cooperation in critical raw materials. What kind of cooperation will it be?

— I've been impressed during my time here how much Uzbekistan, in both private sector and public sector, looks for best practice around the world in terms of what works. For example, digital parks, you’re bringing knowledge and expertise in education sector or even in ski resorts.

Specifically on critical minerals, if it works for President Mirziyoyev’s government, Uzbekistan in general, we’re looking for a similar model you signed with the European Union. That includes sharing expertise, potentially helping extraction, get into market, all the sort of things you’d expect in that kind of MOU. It’s up for you to finalize between our two governments and private sectors.

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— In February 2024, Sky News reported that items including drone equipment and heavy machinery are being sent from the UK to several countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Uzbekistan, and are then being moved to Russia. We know that some companies in Uzbekistan such as Mvizion were put under sanctions. What other measures are taken by authorities of both countries in order to prevent sanctions circumvention?

— The British government are very grateful for the spirit of cooperation that Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian states have shown in terms of working together. But this is not always easy. Every time we have a suggested way of sanctioning a company, a pop up company may appear. And it lasts a few days and goes. We realize it’s a difficult environment.

But at the same time, there’s another country in the region where I understand that the number of dishwashers in country by the imports should be four per household. So you get these anomalies, very clearly that’s not the case. And that is since the war in Ukraine.

In mid-February a UK legal firm organized a day of training for Uzbek civil servants and government in terms of the legislative framework, the actions you can take to track sanctioned companies and sanctioned goods. On the next day, we provided a similar capacity to private sector as well.

In November 2023, we had senior officials jointly from the UK, EU, and US here for talks with government about the progress, how we work together, what more support and concerns we have. And those partnerships are working strongly and well.

— So the trainings for the private sector were organized to make sure that they don’t become part of sanctions circumvention without knowing?

— Exactly. What sort of things they can do, what to look out for, what are the rules. Because we understand it’s difficult.

What our key concern is that nothing that we send or get into the system ends up on the frontline killing Ukrainians essentially. It’s a war of invasion and aggression, and that’s not right. And we will do everything we can to protect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Sanctions is a big part of this.

— The UK became one of the desirable destinations for migrant workers from Central Asia recently, after the launch of the seasonal worker’s scheme for the region. We see news that nowadays job operators are looking into bringing migrant workers not only for seasonal work, but also in occupations in healthcare. Is there any data on how many people from Uzbekistan are now involved in seasonal work in the UK?

— We're talking about thousands. It’s not the huge numbers like in some of the other countries. But we think it’s really important. Seasonal workers from Uzbekistan and Central Asia were making up some of the majority of workers in the agricultural sector last year. I think we’re looking at around 4,000 this year. But depending on private sector need, if the farms in the UK need more, we can look to increase these numbers.

There’s a couple of key messages to those who think about doing it. You’d be really welcome, we really want to see you there. But we want to make sure that anyone working, them or their family and loved ones, are properly safeguarded and protected. So please only use government channels, official channels to apply for the visas. Don’t use any third parties because there are some unscrupulous people, third parties who are taking extra money, which you don’t need to be paying. There’re official links which you should be using, not third parties.

And simply on wider programs. We’re very much looking into what we could do. And as you mentioned, nurses and doctors sounds pretty sensible for me. But at the same time, I want to make sure you have the nurses and doctors you need for your own system.

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— Will the UK consider expansion of quotas for seasonal migrants from Central Asia?

— That expands and contracts each year depending on the private sector need in the UK. And there’s domestic politics to this in the UK in terms of the size of the numbers. At the moment it’s healthy, we like it, it’s working well. We just need to make sure that, those who go from Uzbekistan or the region to UK have a really good experience.

When they come back with that money we have programs we’re working with IOM etc. to make sure that money’s reinvested so they can start their own companies. So it generates local growth as well, when they get back. It’s not just spent all at one go check.

— During Mr. Cameron’s visit to Uzbekistan, it was mentioned that number of Chevening scholars for the region and Uzbekistan will be increased. So how many Chevening scholarships will be available?

— My ambition on this is quite large. The education point is really important, it’s fundamental to what we do here and how we help. President Mirziyoyev himself talks about the importance of “education, education, education”.

I wasn’t expecting such widespread use of the English language here. And certainly, for the post-Soviet generation, the amount of English language is truly impressive. I think that part of Uzbekistan is standing on its own two feet, opening up to the global markets, your youth being able to compete for jobs internationally, bring that experience back.

In Chevening, I think we’re looking at 15. We’re doubled to about 15−16 this year.

I am also conscious that under “El-yurt umidi” you’re sending over 100 Uzbeks to study each year for master’s program in the UK. That’s impressive. And we’re seeing those people in positions of influence in business, in civil society, in government roles. People who are dedicated to the public good come back and share that, and making your systems reflecting some of the best internationally. And if something doesn’t work in your country you can just say that’s not going to work here.

Cambridge University Press is providing the textbooks across secondary schools in country, that’s impressive. You’ve seen a way of educating you’d like, and you’ve brought it back here, those sorts of opportunities are what we’re looking for.

And in light of the foreign secretary’s visit, we announced an education program for about £6.5 million, if memory serves. It will aim to increase English language provision, English language training, looking at how your education systems can be more efficient, looking at, exams, syllabus, etc. So a whole of education system approach. We will look to work with international partners like UNICEF and others to deliver on the educational priorities of your government.

— The UK stresses the importance of increasing the capacity of Central Asian governments in tackling corruption and money laundering which can eventually bring to better economic development. What kind of assistance is the UK offering to Uzbekistan in this regard?

— The existing program on “Effective governance for economic development” with funds around £25 million, which we mentioned a bit earlier, has also a governance angle.

One of the biggest offers, the UK as a model can give, is an international arbitration court the Tashkent International Commercial Court, which was announced by President Mirziyoyev during the recent Tashkent International Investment forum. That’s really useful and important for investor confidence.

Whatever country you go into, it’s an arbitration court that says to medium and large enterprises, hopefully some small ones too: “If you come here and invest, there is a clear legal surety on your investment that you can go to arbitration.”

Now, that works on a few levels. One of the levels is, the Gulf does it, Singapore does it, Kazakhstan does it. And it has massively improved investor confidence, and therefore the flow of foreign direct investment into those countries. And indeed, when I was at the TIIF, I heard even companies in the Gulf saying: “That’s really good if you have an arbitration court here.” So this is not about British companies only. It’s about South Asian companies, Gulf companies. It gives the insurance today that when they come here, they will have an internationally recognized court where they can go to arbitration. And that’s really important.

The experts say, that in the first year alone it would have realized about $400 million of additional investment for your country. Courts are a bit expensive, but they’re not 400 million. And that would grow in time. Just look at what’s happening in Kazakhstan.

It also helps that court was designed to have an international presence: British judge and a register. But it would have been training Uzbek lawyers to take over in the future. So building a skill set, transferring best international practice into Uzbekistan. I understand it’s going to be moved to one of the digital parks now. That will take some more work on the legal framework. But the idea, the purpose of it is really strong.

And as long as it can be recognized internationally as independent, and we’ve no way of it being undermined, it will help deliver huge amounts of foreign direct investment for your country.

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— If we can go back to the cooperation in terms of green technologies, you mentioned earlier, what kind of cooperation is happening there between the UK and Uzbekistan?

— We have a green inclusive fund being set up in light of the foreign secretary’s visit, it is about £19.5 million. There’s a specific financing model bringing in private equity, and international finance to help identify what SMEs need support on green technologies and building capacity, but also on some of the investments in terms of regional infrastructure, energy, water, renewable energies.

We want to understand what programs you need as a country, how that connects across the region, to help build up your renewable sector in green technology.

— And the fund is for the whole region?

— For the whole region. Within that some of these programs will just be bilateral. But some of them, as we the connectivity is so important here, and when we talk about water or energy, that is a regional issue. And you’ve got a lot of Soviet area technology, which is getting older and very inefficient. And you have some of the largest carbon footprint per capita in the world. We want to help you reduce that.

A lot of this is catalytic money to help identify problems and issues where we can work together, working with IFIs, private equity, business, governments on how we can help you develop those technologies which will have the greatest impact.

— Parliamentary report mentions a recommendation to organize a diplomatic academy for the diplomatic service of the region’s countries. At what stage is this initiative? And how could it serve for the purposes of increasing regional integration?

— In the UK we have a diplomatic academy and different foreign services have different ways of training the diplomats. You have some pretty good diplomatic universities here, such as University of World Economy and Diplomacy, which provides your future diplomats, ambassadors, etc. I haven’t been following this specific proposal where it is, but we are very much interested in sharing our experience in where I’ve seen priorities from the president, which is building up the capacity of a public administration.

We have a civil service college which helps and build the professional MBAs, etc., programing skills for our civil servants. We’re looking at sharing best practice in that.

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— You spent a little less than a year in Uzbekistan already. After all this time, you have been learning about the country, what do you think Uzbekistan needs the most at this point of development?

— Recently I sat down with some of the heads of the IFIs in the country, and they say this is one of the few countries in the world where the drive is so palpable. You’re booming as a country, and the sense of purpose is really strong behind the president’s reform program.

I think the message sometimes is just give time for people to deliver, pause, let them go away and have the time to actually implement.

I’ve been struck by the dynamism, the huge welcome and the real sense that we are genuine partners working together. And that’s really rewarding. Your culture and your history is fantastic. My own country at the past was in the dark ages. Some of the greatest world philosophers, some of the greatest astronomers were flourishing in Bukhara and Samarkand, Khiva, across the country. And I think that partnership continues to this day, and we learn from each other.

— One of the areas that has seen huge growth recently in Uzbekistan is the creative industry. How is it affecting the life of Uzbekistan and can it become a new driver?

— I'm about to turn 50, I’m a bit of a fossil. My seven year old daughter is better on some of this technology than me. But I’ve been to the digital park in Tashkent and was struck by how connected it was, how you’d taken the best from Singapore, from India, from across the world in terms of how to design the park. And then in there you had programmers, male and female. You are trying to work on gender balance there. That was really important as women and girls in across the sectors.

And you are looking at ways how you could provide e-commerce for your whole country. You’ve got these replicated in each of the 12 provinces. You’re training your youth, you have dormitories, you have universities nearby, you have the ministry on site, and you’re attracting foreign business. And this is quite a world leading in what you’re doing.

Coming back to that demographic growth you’ve got, and the challenge you have being doubly landlocked. This is a really important area for you to develop. And I think it’s spot on that you’re doing it, and it goes hand in hand. The education priority the president has for the country, and indeed, I think most parents have for their children. And as Britain we can offer transnational education, and also share our experience in e-commerce, I think we’ve got fourth largest e-commerce economy in the world, we can help and share what we’re doing. I’ve seen already how good you are at taking the best and bringing it back into developing your own country and economy. And we’re here to help you.

interview, timothy smart, united kingdom

— When we were preparing for the interview, we were told that you were preparing for Uzbek language exam. How was the exam?

— Juda yaxshi edi. Savolingiz uchun katta rahmat. Men Uzbek tilida gapirishim kerak (Talks in Uzbek. Translation: “Very good. Thanks for your question. I need to talk in Uzbek”). I must practice, I speak in English too much. British diplomats will certainly learn both Russian and Uzbek, but more of us will begin to learn Uzbek, because this helps us understand your culture better. We are also guests in your country, we should be speaking your language.

I want to become more fluent. I’m not. It’s frustrating to me that I’m not a fluent as I would like to be. But I can go out and negotiate in markets. When Uzbek is spoken, I can understand. It’s wonderful when I’m sitting in meetings, I don’t need the translator. Maybe after 20 minutes I’ll put the translator on, because my brain gets tired.

It’s really important to show respect, most important thing to understand your culture, how Uzbeks live, what’s their matter? I can go on X (formerly Twitter), I can go on,, Uzbekistan24 and just see what’s happening in the country. I don’t need a translator, can listen it on the radio. It’s really helpful to me to understand what really matters to yourselves.

— And how long have you been studying Uzbek?

— About 14 months before getting here. It’s quite hard. But it’s worth the effort. The sentence order I find fascinating. When I speak to Korean, Japanese colleagues, they say it’s so easy learning Uzbek. And for the Western European language, the sentence is more difficult. But it’s worth it.

— Thank you for this effort. When I interviewed your predecessor, Ambassador Torlot, I asked him what kind of advice he was planning to give to you prior to your arrival. If this is not a secret, what did he tell you about Uzbekistan, and what kind of advice he gave you?

— We spoke on the geopolitical importance, about the warmth of the hospitality lasting all his many years here, how sad he was to leave. The main message was “Enjoy it. It will feel too short”.

There’s an opportunity for us to continue to build ever stronger, closer relations. And I’m very grateful for my previous Ambassador for all the work he and the team did then. It’s a real pleasure to take forward their good work and build that partnership not just for today, but for our children as they come.

— Mr. Ambassador, it’s been a great interview and pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

— Pleasure's all mine. Savollaringiz, so’zlaringiz uchun katta rahmat (Says in Uzbek: “Many thanks for your questions and words”).