Tajikistan hoping to re-open gas talks with Uzbekistan

By bne IntelliNews October 14, 2013

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The Tajik government plans to open talks with Uzbekistan in an attempt to secure supplies of Uzbek natural gas in 2014. The news comes as a fresh dispute has broken out between the two countries over the derailing of a Tajik train within Uzbekistan.

Tajikistan's state gas distribution company Tojiktransgaz plans to start talks with its Uzbek counterpart Uztransgaz in late October, according to a government source quoted by Asia-Plus. Tajikistan has received no gas imports from Uzbekistan so far this year, after the two countries failed to reach a deal on exports for 2013.

Amid worsening diplomatic relations, Uzbekistan cut off gas supplies on December 31. That followed a series of disputes over mounting arrears run up by Tojiktransgaz. The Tajik company says non-payments by domestic gas consumers are behind its struggles to settle the bill.

At the same time, Uzbekistan started exporting gas to the larger and more lucrative Chinese market in mid 2012, meaning there is now less gas available for both the Tajik market and domestic consumers in Uzbekistan. In response to the cut off, Tajikistan has stepped up coal production and many enterprises are switching to coal power.

However, speculation also persists in Dushanbe that the cut off is tangled up with Uzbek efforts to get the Tajik government to drop plans to build the Roghun dam. With water rights a regular source of argument across the border, Tashkent fears the project will restrict water flow in the Amu Darya, which is used to irrigate Uzbekistan's cotton fields.

The start of negotiations on restarting the gas trade comes at a difficult time. Relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have become even more strained than usual, after a Tajik train overturned inside Uzbekistan on October 10. Carrying 200 recruits for the Tajik army through a stretch of Uzbek territory that separates north and south Tajikistan at the time, Dushanbe has blamed its counterpart for the incident.

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