Kyrgyzstan: Where are all the autos going?

Kyrgyzstan: Where are all the autos going?
A Haval dealership in Bishkek. /
By Eurasianet February 27, 2024

Kyrgyzstan’s foreign trade is expanding, but the growth numbers aren’t necessarily a cause for celebration in Bishkek.

Overall trade turnover rose by 30% in 2023, compared with the previous year’s total, amounting to $15.7bn, according to the official Chinese Xinhua news agency. However, imports outpaced exports in 2023 by almost four times, with goods and services totalling $12.4bn being purchased and $3.3bn being sold.

Not surprisingly, Kyrgyzstan is heavily dependent on Beijing and Moscow for trade. China accounted for over one-third of Kyrgyzstan’s trade turnover in 2023, while the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) was responsible for another 28%.

Speaking of trade turnover, a questionable trend is evident in Kyrgyzstan’s auto market. Auto imports from East Asia spiked last year, the Kyrgyz National Statistics Committee reported. More than 79,000 Chinese vehicles were shipped to Kyrgyzstan in 2023, compared with only 1,773 the previous year. Kyrgyzstan also imported over 50,000 cars from South Korea, a 10-fold increase over 2022’s figure. 

Overall, Kyrgyzstan imported 184,789 cars in 2023, compared with 41,241 the previous year. Official numbers for auto exports were modest over the same two-year period: 8,733 in 2023 and 1,008 in 2022. Some local observers question the accuracy of the government figures, especially export totals, noting that a Russian website that tracks the region’s auto industry earlier reported that Kyrgyzstan exported at least 60,000 vehicles to Russia in 2023. Since the start of the Ukraine war, Kyrgyzstan has faced criticism in Washington and Brussels for serving as a back-door trade route that helps Russia evade Western sanctions.

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz Agriculture Ministry announced a deal to export 10,000 tonnes of walnuts to China, the outlet reported. In 2023, Kyrgyzstan exported over 21,000 tonnes of nuts. The Chinese deal is part of a Kyrgyz government push “to increase exports and find new markets for domestic products,” according to the Sputnik report. 

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.