The Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) is a financial hub that serves the countries of Central Asia and the Middle East. Daily News Egypt interviewed Sheikh Bilal Khan, a member of the panel of arbitrators at the AIFC International Arbitration Center and a member of the AIFC Advisory Board on Islamic Finance, to understand the centre’s main areas of activity, investment opportunities, development of the capital market, most promising sectors, and the IPOs programme.
Among the priority goals of the AIFC are the development of the human resource potential of local financial market specialists, the popularisation of international professional certifications, and boosting investment.
What is your advice for Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and African investors?
Regarding the opportunities in AIFC, I can say that this place is open for business. What I mean by that, is as an investor or institution, you can have the comfort or the luxury of AIFC, giving you a gateway to the entire central Asian market, or even the Chinese and Russian markets.
When you are registered in the AIFC, you will not fall under the jurisdiction of local laws in Kazakhstan or Central Asia. In fact, you will be registered and regulated by the English common law system.
AIFC has British courts, and judges here, my self being one of the judges in the international arbitration court here.
Additionally, the centre gives you 50-year tax exemptions, simplifies your visa regulations, offers free office spaces, and the license costs only $200, not $100,000. Even if you get your license today and didn’t open your business immediately.
Unlike Dubai, where you have to be physically on the ground, here you don’t have to be, you can get the licence and still set somewhere in Egypt for example, and this as a branch, and all you need is one local Kazakh to take care of it.
Opportunities and return on investments are huge, there is so much privatisation going on in Kazakhstan, and infrastructure development.
If you are an investor or a financier, you want to be able to take a piece of this cake, before somebody else comes.
From your point of view, what are the most promising sectors in the country?
Kazakhstan has huge opportunities in different sectors. Education and health sectors are also available for business.
However, the major area would be agriculture, and the Arab world needs that a lot, it could provide for an excellent opportunity for importing and exporting of agriculture products.
Also, the financial services sector, if they come here, they would be able to attract a lot of investments, they can even set up an Islamic financial institution or bank here, as there are hardly one or two.
So, if an Egyptian Islamic bank or financial institution, or takaful company opened here, they will get an excellent return, as there is a huge demand.
Could you elaborate on the privatisation and the IPO programme?
There are huge IPOs because Kazakhstan is a natural resource country, every element in the periodic table you can think of, is located here.
The country aspires to be part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). To do so, state-ownership of all assets needs to be reduced to 15%. It cannot be more than that.
Another reason is the fact that the government doesn’t want to rely just on one area, they want to diversify the economy away from the energy and the mining sector, that’s why there is an opportunity for financial services to grow here.
We have an independent stock exchange called the Astana International Exchange (AIX), which has its own listing rule, based on international rules, allowing dual listing, allowing you to list in Dubai and AIX simultaneously.