By Maksim Yeniseyev
TASHKENT -- Recent economic reforms meant to attract US investment will develop the economy and raise the standard of living, predict ordinary Uzbekistanis.
"This is like a door that just opened," Artem Galitskii of Tashkent told Caravanserai. "We all want high-quality American goods and services in Uzbekistan."
"Maybe this sounds naive, but I will believe that the economic reforms can succeed only when I see a McDonald's in Tashkent," Otabek Islamov, another Tashkent resident, told Caravanserai.
Those reforms include the September devaluation of the som and the introduction of full currency convertibility, as well as efforts to allow Uzbekistanis to exchange for and own foreign currency.
The potential for American business to succeed in Uzbekistan is evident, since US investors gained a foothold in the country despite adverse business conditions in past years, say economists.
"Uzbekistan is called the land of Chevrolets," Tashkent economist Shukurullo Mavlonov told Caravanserai. "They have taken over the streets."
"By my estimates, their automobiles occupy 85-90% of the Uzbek market," he said.
Uzbekistan has three plants that assemble 300,000 Chevrolet cars per year. The holding company, founded in 2008, is 75% owned by the Uzbekistani government, with General Motors owning the remaining 25%.
Meanwhile, the opening of an RC Cola bottling plant in Tashkent August 3 was a significant event for the Uzbekistani market. The beverage holds third place in the cola contest in Uzbekistan, after Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
"In the years since Uzbekistan's independence, US companies have worked through unique features of the country's economy to find success, along the way offering new technologies and opportunities for the people of Uzbekistan," said US Ambassador Pamela Spratlen at the opening ceremony, according to the US embassy.
In a first for Uzbekistan, a US university intends to open a branch campus in the Central Asian country.
Webster University, based in St. Louis, signed a memorandum of understanding in September with the Uzbekistani Higher Education Ministry on opening a campus in Tashkent, according to the university's press office.
"This is a significant milestone in the history of our university," said Webster President Elizabeth Stroble, according to a Webster press release. She predicted "multiple benefits for our academic communities and our countries".
The campus is scheduled to open next September.