On 4 April 2023, Turkmenistan launched the Trade Information Portal with the aim of guiding both the local and foreign entrepreneurs through the import, export, and transit procedures. The development of this Portal was carried out through the Ready4Trade Central Asia project funded by the EU. Ready4Trade has already launched similar Trade Portals in other four Central Asian countries.
The technical assistance was provided by the International Trade Centre (ITC) and UNCTAD. The Ministry of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations of Turkmenistan (MTFER) is responsible for implementing this initiative. Information in this portal is available in three languages (Turkmen, Russian, and English), making it easier for international businesses to get the necessary information on Turkmenistan’s trade procedures.
Development of the platform might be useful for Turkmenistan’s negotiations to access the World Trade Organization (WTO). The EU ambassador to Turkmenistan Diego Ruiz Alonso noted that the Trade Portal will help to enhance Turkmenistan’s ability to comply with the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and reduce barriers to trade.
The Platform provides a detailed description of all the import, export, and transit formalities, including required documents, forms and applicable regulations and procedures.
The Portal is for local and foreign entrepreneurs,potential investors,governments and international organizations,scientists and researchers.
The Portal aims to:
- reduce the time and cost for foreign trade participants by listing the steps in obtaining the necessary licenses and permits to export and import.
- enhance the transparency of cross-border trade regulations and ensure their effective implementation in Turkmenistan.
- help government authorities to streamline and simplify trade processes to benefit Turkmenistan’s business community.
- lists the types of documents needed and what documents are needed in order to apply for licenses.
- informs about ministries and offices one needs to go to and how long it would normally take to obtain such documents.
- shows the sample document that businesses will receive and provides estimated costs for obtaining such document.
- includes the original copies of the laws and regulations that one needs to follow.
Corruption in the public sector is widespread in Turkmenistan. Transparency International notes that the legislative anti-corruption framework is underdeveloped in Turkmenistan. The country does not have any independent institutions tasked with countering corruption. This portal could potentially minimize the possibility for corruption by educating business owners of the step-by-step procedures they need to follow and hence prevent bureaucrats from misleading the entrepreneurs and extorting money from them.
Turkmenistan also ranks 161 out of 176 countries on the Index of Economic Freedom, which classifies the country’s economic freedom status as “repressed”. The portal could potentially contribute to improving the economic freedom in Turkmenistan if it succeeds in reducing corruption and red tape for actors engaged in foreign trade. However, we are yet to see if the Portal succeeds in reducing corruption and improving economic openness as it was recently launched.
How does the Trade Portal of Turkmenistan compare to other Central Asian countries?
To provide a comparison, in Kazakhstan, the Portal was launched in July 2022. It has similar sections and categories to those in Turkmenistan as they were both developed within the same project Ready4Trade. Contact sections are also similar between the two countries and none of them have a designated section on reporting corruption and abuse.
However, there are two major differences between these two portals. The Kazakh Portal has original trade statistics provided by the Kazakh government. The one in Turkmenistan lacks the primary data from state statistical authorities and only shows data from external sources. The Trade Portal of Kazakhstan also has a link, which leads to the single window portal for export and import operations. Within this portal, entrepreneurs can apply for and receive licenses and permissions online. The Trade Portal of Turkmenistan, however, does not have this feature for online applications and requires applicants to visit government offices in person to obtain the licenses.
While we see that this Portal has a potential to improve conditions for actors engaged in trade, there are a number of outstanding and unaddressed issues. In order to address these shortcomings Progres makes the following recommendations to the Portal’s implementing partners:
- Expand the selection of traded products: the portal gives information on limited types of traded products. For exports, information is available only for 13 products and 12 for imports. These products mostly consist of foods, drinks, and agricultural crops. However, the majority of Turkmenistan’s imports consists of goods in mechanical appliances, electrical machinery, cars, aircraft, iron, steel, pharmaceuticals, and others. Sharing comprehensive information on these types of products on the Trade Portal will be useful for decision-making.
- Digitize all services to reduce possibility for corruption: creating an online application process to obtain licenses and permissions will save time and money for entrepreneurs. For instance, entrepreneurs wishing to export textile products need to complete 27 different steps and obtain several licenses. They need to visit multiple ministries and offices in person to apply and obtain them. Turkmenistan ranks poorly and falls behind Afghanistan on the World Bank’s Govtech Maturity Index which measures digital transformation in the public sector.
- Cut the red-tape: reducing the number of steps and ministries that business owners need to go to will save their time. For example, entrepreneurs wishing to export textile by road need to visit 6 different ministries to obtain the necessary permissions and submit 47 different documents to apply for such permissions.
- Provide up to date, comprehensive economic data: the portal relies on external sources of trade data for Turkmenistan, which are not updated and available only until 2021. In other Central Asian countries governments provide updated statistics on import and export on an annual basis. Turkmenistan’s statistics committee does not publicly share the trade data. The accurate trade data is vital for entrepreneurs to do their market research and decide what products to export and import. EBRD in its overview of Turkmenistan recommends the country to improve its statistical capacity and economic reporting to allow entrepreneurs to make informed investment decisions.
- Develop safe public communication channels to report incidences of corruption and to make a complaint: there is no designated page within the portal to report misuse and abuse of power or poor customer services. Users can only report incorrect information, suggest modifications or new procedures. The Progres team tried to contact the Portal through their ‘Contact us’ page but received an error message. The Ministry of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations of Turkmenistan is responsible for updating and maintaining the portal.
- Publicize the portal and educate the public about it: promote the portal through national media outlets such as TV, print and online media and educate the public including potential entrepreneurs on how they can access and use the Portal and what benefits they can experience from using it.