The XII Astana Economic Forum will be held in Nur-Sultan on May 16-17. This year it will take place at the cutting-edge platform of the Congress Center, on the territory of EXPO. This year the organizer of the Forum is Astana EXPO-2017 National Company.
The main topic of one of the largest conferences in Eurasia is “Inspiring growth: people, cities, economies”. It is expected that the Forum will be attended by about five thousand people, representing about 60 countries. Traditionally, among them there will be many outstanding contemporaries - Nobel laureates, prominent politicians, famous economists, and leading experts in their spheres. We talked with managing director of the National Company Ruslan Zhemkov to discuss what events are expected within the AEF-2019 and what effect Kazakhstan will get from it.
- For 12 years, annually, the capital of Kazakhstan turns into an international business platform. What is the main value of the AEF for our country and the world as a whole?
- I say, the Astana Economic Forum is not just a brand with a twelve-year history. Here we solve specific practical problems. The conference has come about for a reason. New challenges emerge constantly in the world. People try to understand whether there will be new crises. Various political processes are born, to which often there is a painful reaction, including from our side. All this needs to be analyzed, discussed, planned. The exchange of ideas is more important, rather formality. Therefore, the AEF raises only relevant issues of our time. Disputes occur often, but it is in these disputes the truth is born.
- Can you give specific examples of practical solutions that were born during the Forum?
- No problem! During the AEF’s work, a lot of recommendations were developed that seriously influenced the world economic agenda. They were taken into account when making decisions by such platforms as the G8, G20, UNECOSOC and others. The recommendations of the AEF experts were voiced from the highest rostrums, for example, at the UN General Assembly’s Plenary session.
At the sessions within the AEF framework, French President Francois Hollande spoke about oil prices and the introduction of "green" technologies. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak discussed global digitalization of the economy and cryptocurrency. Famous physicist Michio Kaku voiced bold scenarios about what the world will look like in twenty, fifty and even a hundred years.
I think - and other forum participants agree with me - that in our world, torn by conflicts, sanctions wars, mutual intolerance, it is very important to be able to conduct a dialogue. This approach is promoted by the AEF, and Kazakhstan as a whole.
- Why people, cities and economies are the themes of the Forum? Do you think that today they are the main drivers of growth?
- Let's first talk about people. Mankind has entered a new era - the fourth industrial revolution. Older economic models no longer work. So, it is necessary to develop new approaches. A balance should be sought between global digitalization and value of human resources. Previously, energy reserves or geography gave countries certain advantages. Today, they are fading into the background.
Many experts believe that in the coming years the quality of human capital, as well as the manufacturability of the economy and the level of urban development, will become the most important factors.
One of the reports of the World Economic Forum mentioned that in the world only 62% of human potential is used in terms of obtaining new knowledge and their productive use. That is, there is a reserve, and different countries are already trying to use it. Humanity will move from a knowledge economy to a human economy. The qualities that cannot be programmed - creativity, character, and the spirit of cooperation - are becoming increasingly valuable.
As for the second factor, cities, according to forecasts, by 2050 about 70% of the world's population will live there. This is a very relevant issue for us, because Kazakhstan has a low population density. But we are already taking steps in this direction - I mean the initiative to create centers of economic growth, the development of "smart" cities, which will become the locomotives of the regional development.
Those societies that will not pay attention to these factors may remain in the list of undeveloped forever. But we want to be developed. We are on the way to the thirty of the most developed countries in the world. It means that it is vital for us to keep abreast of recent changes and trends. The work format of the AEF gives us the opportunity to participate in important negotiations on our territory, providing a platform for the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience.
- What are the most pressing issues shaping the agenda of this Forum? Are these issues exclusively intra-Kazakhstan or typical for the whole world?
- We highlight several relevant topics in our program. This is the influence of the fourth industrial revolution on the optimization of workplaces. We will also discuss migration challenges as a consequence of global inequality, the struggle of cities for creative minds, and an increase in the level of trust in the “state-business-civil society” triangle. An important topic will be overcoming digital inequality - the transfer of knowledge to the regions. We will talk about the problem of the well-being of the population and about strengthening the middle class as the basis of human capital.
I think it is not necessary to explain how these issues are important for our country. But they are also relevant for so many other states! Therefore, we expect that on the fields of the AEF there will be a discussion of various successful practices applied in the world. We have quite big ambitions here - we want the forum to set standards for making effective decisions and creating successful urban development strategies.
By the way, since we are going to discuss the concepts of urban development, the urban theme is chosen as the Forum design style. All halls within the framework of the AEF will be named after the world's key financial hubs.
- What experts will participate in the forum?
- We look forward to seeing such celebrities as Nobel Prize Winner in Economics in 2018, Paul Romer, and two more Nobel Peace Prize Winners of 2007 and 2016, Rae Kwon Chung and Juan Manuel Santos, as well as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, Former Deputy Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Stanley Fischer, head of Sberbank of Russia Herman Gref. Also, within the framework of the Forum, it will be possible to meet Deputy U.N. Secretary General Armida Alisjahbana, former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff and others.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Han Zheng, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nokia Corporation Risto Siilasmaa will speak at the plenary session. The forum will be attended by the Mayors of Tallinn, Yerevan, Harbin, Urumqi, Orenburg, representatives of the city administrations of Moscow, Florence and Bangkok. Mayor of the capital of Kazakhstan, Bakhyt Sultanov, will also give a welcoming speech.
It is impossible to list all the speakers now - these are more than 100 names.
This year we have added several new formats. For the first time, a round table will be held with the participation of the International Monetary Fund. The first Kazakhstan forum on the UN sustainable development goals is planned, as well as a conference with the participation of finance ministers from different countries. In addition, for the first time in 11 years, the AEF Talks format will be introduced, targeting young people and students - admission will be free for them.
- The AEF has always been held at different sites. Why did you decide this year to be accommodated again at EXPO site?
- Everything is very simple: the territory of EXPO has many advantages. One of them is the cutting-edge infrastructure, which proved to be effective during the EXPO exhibition. This place is perfect for the AEF. I am confident that in the future, the territory of the EXPO business center will more than once become a platform for other major international events.
Once again I say, there is a ready-made developed infrastructure facility. Its presence helps to save budgets.
- Let’s speak about money. Is the money returned to the treasury?
- According to the calculations of the Institute of Economic Research, the cost of the forum will pay off more than twice. The arithmetic is simple: most of the cost of the AEF-2019 is the cost of technical and informational support and equipment. Our contractors are Kazakhstan companies, so all the money spent remains in our country. In fact, these are investments in the telecommunications industry, and this is about two percent of Kazakhstan’s GDP. Investment in this area will give impetus to the development of the entire economy. In such cases, the multiplicative effect works: enterprises to fulfill their obligations order the supply of raw materials, equipment, organize logistics and so on. In general, this effect can be up to 3.3 billion tenge. At the same time, additional GDP growth will be 2.1 billion tenge - one and a half times higher than the cost of holding the event. We are talking about additional jobs, tax deductions and so on.
In addition, macrocontracts and memoranda are always concluded at the Forum - here we are already talking about tens of billions of tenge. That is, the delayed long-term effect will be even higher.
And there are things that are difficult to estimate like money. This is a contribution to the very human capital that we are talking about so much. As you remember, the younger generation will have the opportunity to participate in the forum for free. Young people will get new knowledge, take part in the exchange of views on the AEF site - all this is invaluable experience that cannot be replaced.
- The Forum is held for the twelfth time. What do you think allows the project to exist for so long?
- Despite the fact that the AEF can be positioned as the “Asian Davos”, some people still do not understand its strategic importance. It is about the investment attractiveness of Kazakhstan.
We constantly improve the level and quality of the event. We all want Kazakhstan acquire the face of a strong and promising state in the eyes of the world community, which not only follows global trends, but sets them. The AEF is working on that. Such events show that in our country there is a favorable investment climate, there are all conditions for effective business. Hundreds and thousands of entrepreneurs, experts, opinion leaders from all over the world come and see for themselves. Following them are investments. And investment is something that will inevitably affect the quality of life of all ordinary citizens. In this, we, as the organizers of the AEF, see the main goal of our work.