Astana Economic Forum features 11 Nobel winners, several heads of state

The luster of a conference depends on its headliners – and by that account, the Fifth Astana Economic Forum will be glittering, with 11 Nobel Prize winners, two billionaires and several heads of state coming.

The Forum, which will address some of today’s most pressing economic issues, is fast gaining a reputation as one of the world’s premier economic events.

That’s partly because of its decision to assemble as many Nobel laureates as it can at the Palace of Independence convention center in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.

The second Forum in 2009 attracted two Nobel winners, the third Forum three and last year’s seven. The 11 laureates at this year’s Forum from May 22 to May 24 will be one of the largest gatherings of Nobel winners in one place ever.

Kazakhstan doesn’t invite the laureates to show off or to differentiate the Astana Economic Forum from other conferences of its kind, according to economst Zhanar Aizhanova. Aizhanova, a Harvard graduate who was Kazakhstan’s minister of Economic Development and Trade last year, said Forum organizers believe the laureates offer some of the best insight in the world on economic issues.

The billionaires scheduled to participate in this year’s Forum are Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of the mining and metals giant Arcelor Mittal, and Alexander Mashkevitch of Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, or ENRC.

Arcelor Mittal’s subsidiary, Arcelor Mittal Temirtau, is Kazakshtan’s biggest steelworks. ENRC is Kazakhstan’s largest mining and metals operation, accounting for 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product some years. It also has holdings in Africa and South America.

The heads of state at this year’s Astana Economic Forum will include Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarabayev, who will deliver the keynote address;  former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and former Mexican President Vincente Fox.

Other speakers and panelists will include government ministers and central bank governors from around the world, leading economists, top corporate executives, diplomats, leaders of international organizations such as branches of the United Nations, and leaders of non-governmental organizations.

For good measure, the Forum will boast Hungarian architect and engineer Erno Rubik, inventor of Rubik’s Cube.

For a comprehensive list of the notables who have registered for the Forum, click here.

The well-known names that the Forum has attracted since its inception in 2008 have swelled the ranks of those attending from one year to the next.

Last year the Forum drew 3,500 participants from 75 countries – almost nine times the 400 participants as the first event. This year’s conference is expected to attract 5,000 people from 80 countries.

Kazakhstan sees the Forum not only as an important venue for the discussion of global economic issues but also a place where its leaders can showcase the nation’s accomplishments and where it can learn from some of the world’s top minds. Those accomplishments have included one of the world’s top economic growth rates for more than a decade.

”The Astana Economic Forum is an annual interactive platform for discussions and solutions of global problems that is unparalleled in its scope and level” in the region, said Murat Karimsakov, chairman of the executive body of the Eurasian Economic Club of Scientists Association, the main Forum organizer.

Two of the issues that this year’s Forum crowd are expected to discuss are global economic and financial systems that many categorize as dysfunctional.

In December of last year, President Nazarbayev, the guiding light behind Kazakhstan’s economic achievements, proposed an alternative to the current system of the G-8 and G-20 nations playing the major role in shaping world economic policy.

The global economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 hit Kazakhstan hard, although the country avoided falling into the recession that many countries suffered.

President Nazarbayev placed much of the blame for Kazakhstan’s and other developing countries’ downturn on the international economic and financial systems. The way the crisis spread supported his view. It started in wealthier countries and spread across the globe.

The president has contended that the wealthy G-8 and G-20 nations continue to set policies that protect or enhance their interests rather than the world community’s. In December of last year he recommended a much larger group of policy-setting nations, including developing countries.

In unveiling his G-Global Initiative, he didn’t specify the number of nations that should be setting economic policy, but economists familiar with his thinking have put the figure at 70.

You can learn more about the G-Global Initiative by going to the Web site

Although Kazakhstan rebounded from the international economic crisis to achieve the 8 percent economic growth it had enjoyed before the downturn, many nations haven’t been so lucky. President Nazarbayev believes continuing dysfunction in the global economic and financial systems is a key reason those nations are suffering.

The president has also said that the world needs a new global currency to replace the dollar. He believes weakness in the dollar in 2008 and 2009 hurt many nations whose economic fortunes were tied to the U.S. currency.

So the issue of replacing the dollar as the de-facto world currency is another topic expected to generate lively debate at this year’s Astana Economic Forum.

Robert Mundell, a Canadian who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1999, said at last year’s Forum that the world needs a fairer currency system because fluctuations in the dollar can do great damage to some nations’ economies.

“I am interested in the reform of the international monetary system, and I came to Kazakhstan especially to discuss this issue,” Mundell said at a previous Forum. He will be making his third Forum appearance this year.

In addition to discussions of the global economic and financial systems, the Forum will offer insight into other sweeping economic issues and on specific industries.

Broader topics will include:

  • Innovation, competitiveness and entrepreneurship.
  • How to achieve a sustainable economy.
  • Attracting foreign investment.
  • Public Private Partnerships.
  • Employment and fair-wage practices.
  • Modernizing the civil service.

Industry-focused topics will include:

  • Managing fossil-fuel resources.
  • Challenges to developing a top-flight health-care system, medical-equipment-production industry and pharmaceutical-production industry.
  • The Customs Union’s attempt to become an international food hub. The free-trade bloc’s members – Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus – have huge combined grain output, giving them the potential to help ease anticipated global food shortagaes.
  • Information and communication technology.
  • Opportunities in Kazakhstan’s transportation sector. The country is rebuilding its portion of the Silk Road Highway from Western Europe to China. It’s also spending billions of dollars to modernize its national railway system with new track, locomotives, passenger and freight cars and other equipment.

Those wishing to attend the Astana Economic Forum can go to the Website.

(Hal Foster appears in the Baltimore Post-Examiner under a partnership with Tengrinews of Kazakhstan. )


(Feature photo: Robert Mundell will be one of 11 Nobel laureates at this year’s Astana Economic Forum.  The professor of economics at Columbia University is the 1999 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, “for his pioneering work in monetary dynamics and optimum currency areas.” )