Cameron is in Kazakhstan on the last leg of a three-day trip that included visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He met a delegation of more than 30 British businesses in Atyrau, Kazakhstan’s oil hub on the Caspian Sea coast, before traveling on to the capital Astana.
“We are in a global race for jobs and investment,” Cameron told reporters in Atyrau. “We’re hoping to sign over 700 million pounds worth of deals. That mean jobs back at home and also investment in this rapidly growing economy. That’s what this is about.”
Thirteen deals with British businesses in the energy, transport and infrastructure industries are expected to be signed during Cameron’s visit, Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov told reporters.
“Our relations have delivered great benefits for both sides particularly in the energy sector,” Idrissov told reporters. “But there are bigger prospects for the future.”
Kazakhstan is also part of the northern distribution network supporting British forces in Afghanistan and has committed to provide support through air and land for Britain’s exit from Afghanistan. Idrissov said the future of Afghanistan was “critical to the stability of central Asia” and that it had already ratified an agreement with the U.K. on air transit, though it did not plan to sign a deal on rail transit during Cameron’s visit.
“A bilateral agreement on rail transit is under negotiation,” Idrissov said. “We hope to complete it very soon.”
Kazakhstan’s government, which has hired former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair to advise on governance issues, has been criticized by Human Rights Watch Inc., a New York-based nonprofit advocacy group. The group asked Cameron in a letter published on Friday to raise the issue of deteriorating human rights with President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Cameron, who is scheduled to meet Nazarbayev tomorrow in Astana, rejected the assertion that he was putting trade ahead of human rights.
“I don’t accept that,” he said. “These are important things for British jobs, for British investment, for the British economy. That’s why I’ m here, that’s what I’m fighting for. But nothing is off the agenda. Britain always stands up for human rights wherever we are in the world.”
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