Keynote Address by Acting Administrator John Barsa for A New Vision for Central Asia: How USAID is Implementing President Trump’s Central Asia Strategy

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

[As prepared]

Hello everyone. It’s a privilege to be representing the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, here with the Heritage Foundation. From religious freedom, to free enterprise, to democracy, to national security, Heritage and USAID share many goals. Nowhere is that more true than in the countries of Central Asia.

We are also fortunate to have the Honorable Ambassadors Farhod Salim of Tajikistan and Javlon Vakhabov of Uzbekistan with us for this event. Your presence here is a reminder of the strength and depth of the partnership between our countries.

The United States was among the first nations to recognize the independence of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Since then, USAID has been a constant presence in Central Asia, helping the region to grow in freedom, prosperity, security, and independence.

That’s why I am excited to make a major announcement today. As a tangible demonstration of the U.S. Government’s commitment to Central Asia, it’s my privilege to announce that USAID will be opening two new missions there: one in Uzbekistan and one in Tajikistan. Missions are the hubs for USAID’s work and demonstrate that the United States is dedicated to building direct and meaningful relationships with a country’s government and people. In Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, these missions will also help ensure that our work in the region is coordinated so that no country in Central Asia is left behind.

USAID has made significant impacts in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over our years of partnership.

For example, last year USAID and Uzbekistan's Ministry of Public Education signed a landmark, first-of-its kind agreement, committing up to $50 million from the United States over five years to support education sector reform. Under the new agreement, we will work together to improve reading and math outcomes, expand IT-based curriculum, and improve English-language instruction. Uzbekistan's education reforms will give students the skills and resources they need to become leaders for their country’s future.

Also thanks to advocacy from USAID, in June 2019, the Parliament of Tajikistan ratified the Law on Food Fortification, which prohibits the import, production, and sale of non-fortified flour. Flour fortification prevents iron deficiencies that lead to delays in the intellectual and physical development of children. It can also impair reproductive function of women, and even lead to child and maternal mortality.

These are just two examples of the many ways in which the partnerships between USAID and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have achieved real results. With the opening of our missions, our shared accomplishments will only multiply.

Though it may be hard to believe—given how the world has changed since then—it was only seven months ago that the Trump Administration announced its Central Asia Strategy right here at Heritage. The establishment of these new missions is one of the first steps in fulfilling the broader commitments laid out in the strategy. Together with our partner departments and agencies in the U.S. Government, USAID is redoubling our efforts to work toward a safer and more prosperous Central Asia.

You will often see the region referred to as a “crossroads” thanks to its position on the Silk Road trading routes that connected East and West for over fifteen hundred years. But that term—crossroads—suggests that Central Asia is just a pass through. It does not give the region its due as a center of culture and a place of deep history and great beauty, from the enchanting architecture of Registan Square to the soaring majesty of the Pamir mountains.

Central Asia—bounded by China, Iran, and Russia—has also been, and continues to be, a critical partner of the United States. The threat from malign actors and ideologies is constant in the region. But we know that truly sovereign Central Asian countries will be able to stand up to these influences and chart their own, independent courses. And in that effort, Central Asia will have no better partner than USAID.

The last few years have seen great progress and growth in the region. New leaders have created openings for reform-minded development, cooperation between the countries in the region has strengthened, and the U.S. has continued to increase our engagement there. This change has made Central Asia a fertile ground for new investment opportunities and has expanded the possibilities for what partnership between the United States and the region can achieve.

To that end, USAID is working in a wide range of sectors. In energy, economic growth, trade, human trafficking, and the stewardship of natural resources, we have stood with the countries of the region to help advance our shared interests.

For example, we know that there can be no prosperity if one half of the workforce is excluded from economic opportunities. That’s why USAID is proud to be working in Central Asia through the Interagency Fund of the White-House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative—or W-GDP. Through W-GDP, we will bring together women’s coalitions from the region to remove barriers to economic empowerment through Women’s National Business Agendas.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, USAID is providing job training and start-up capital to survivors of human trafficking, empowering them to rebuild their lives so they will never again need to emigrate from home to support their families.

And in Turkmenistan, USAID is supporting communities to upgrade water management systems. Our efforts are enhancing early warning capacities for floods and preserving water resources for families and farmers who depend on water for their livelihoods.

Now, as USAID looks to the future in Central Asia by building upon the relationships of the past, we are filled with hope. Our new missions in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will give us the foothold we need to advance a new vision for Central Asia, one in which the countries of the region grow in prosperity and independence while strengthening their cooperation with one another.

Throughout this journey, USAID will stand in friendship and true partnership with the leaders and people of Central Asia as we have done for decades.

With that, I would like to thank the Heritage Foundation for hosting this event today, and I know we’re all looking forward to hearing from Ambassadors Salim and Vakhabov.

Thank you all.