Introduction

On September 30, 2020 a webinar was held on doing business with Kazakhstan in times of COVID. Presentations were held by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in The Netherlands, Witteveen+Bos and Dutch Fruit Solutions. The objective of the webinar was to share experiences, best practices and ideas  for continuing to do business with Kazakhstan. In this memo the most important results of the webinar are summarised.

Travelling to Kazakhstan       

Arnur Gabdullin, Embassy of Kazakhstan in The Netherlands

Mr. Gabdullin gave an overview of the various travel possibilities and limitations and visa requirements. This is a very dynamic aspect so for the most recent information reference is made to the links below:

Witteveen+Bos

Krijn de Brabander

Witteveen+Bos is an international service provider for engineering services, with three offices in Kazakhstan. They have been able quite well to comply with their contractual obligations even with their employees working from home since March. Critical success factor was the recently upgraded IT system which was tailored for flexible working early 2020. Kazakh employees have proven that they can be reliable workers from home. The modern IT system also facilitated working across several offices. Some support was needed to help staff with improving WIFI facilities at home. Local authorities have proven to be very flexible and cooperative. Important is to think well about the redundancy of your systems, not only IT, but also utilities such as electricity.

Obstacles for which no solutions has been found yet include finding new clients and employees. Also onboarding of new employees in the company is difficult now. Furthermore working together in the office stimulates co-creation and creativity; this cannot be replaced fully by online working.

Dutch Fruit Solutions

Fred Evers

Dutch fruit solutions is a collaborative effort by 12 Dutch companies in cooperation with RVO (the Dutch enterprise agency) and the agricultural university in Almaty to create a more productive fruit sector in Kazakhstan . The first step is the creation of a test plot of 2 ha in Talgar between March and May of this year. This whole test plot had to be realised in that time frame because this is the time for planting fruit trees. It means that the whole project was carried out during the height of the pandemic and lockdown in Kazakhstan.

Transport of the irrigation system, plants and monitoring equipment was foreseen to be carried out as one transport. Due to supply chain issues in the EU, these items had to be transported in 3 different transports. At the various borders there was a significant delay and many obstacles to be won over. The aid of the Netherlands Embassy in Kazakhstan, the Kazakh Embassy in The Hague and the dean of the university was crucial to convince the authorities that the transport had to continue.

Evers strongly advises to carry out this kind of transport as much as possible as one transport. The transport of living materials was also met with suspicion at the various borders. Once inside the Eurasian Union international transport was much smoother. It has proven to be very crucial to create a common communication platform for all stakeholders involved. In this project it was Facebook. The big advantage of Facebook is that everybody seems to have it even in the most remote places.

For the supervision of local work three different companies were hired. Communication with people in the field was mainly with WhatsApp and pictures. Email was not practical.

Main findings and recommendations:

  •     Avoid sending interdependent items by different transports;
  •     Beware of taking into account national holidays in your planning;
  •     The Eurasian Union really functions;
  •     Use social media for communication with stakeholders;
  •     Keep all stakeholders well informed at all times
  •     Assistance of Embassy was crucial;
  •     Agree on joint working language upfront.

Not mentioned in the webinar, but added by mr. Evers later:

  •      COVID is not only a problem, but also an innovation accelerator;
  •     There is a tremendous amount of knowledge in Kazakhstan, it is the connection between various disciplines that can bring real opportunities;
  •     Partners in Business (PIB, a programme of RVO) is a very valuable programme for SME’s from The Netherlands wanting to work internationally.