Update on Kyrgyzstan, January 2024

Update on Kyrgyzstan, January 2024

Kyrgyzstan had a couple of prominent stories in the press towards the end of December 2023 with news of a new plant and continuing data showing that cement production has grown.

The Chüy project was first announced by the government in mid-2022 when it signed an investment agreement with a consortium comprising representatives from Terek-Tash and ZENIT. More information on the unit emerged this week when the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund revealed that it made a loan of US$45m towards the scheme based in the northern Chüy region of the country. The plan is to build a 1.7Mt/yr plant with a budget of US$160m. Equipment to build the plant is reportedly being sourced from companies in China and Russia. Special features of the project include a waste heat recovery unit and the use of ash from the Bishkek Thermal Power Plant in the production process. The plant is expected to be launched in 2024.

Graph 1: Cement production in Kyrgyzstan, 2018 - 2023. Source: National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Graph 1: Cement production in Kyrgyzstan, 2018 – 2023. Source: National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic.

One reason why the government might be keen to build a new plant is because cement production has mostly grown in each of the past five years, with the exception of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic began. In 2022 it increased by 7% year-on-year to 2.7Mt and the latest data from the National Statistical Committee indicates that it rose by 11% year-on-year to 2.6Mt in the 11 months to the end of November 2023. If this rate held in December 2023 then it looks likely that the country will have produced just under 3Mt in 2023. At the same time the country’s exports of cement have also been falling. In November 2023 the government of Kazakhstan’s Jambyl Region said that it had found investors to support construction of a railway line between the locale and Kyrgyzstan due to a ‘building boom’ in the latter country.

Earlier in 2023 the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) said it had earmarked US$48m for the modernisation of equipment at the Kant Cement plant, operated by Kazakhstan-based United Cement Group (UCG), also in Chüy region. The plant is the biggest in Kyrgyzstan, running five wet process production lines, according to the Global Cement Directory 2023. The EDB linked its investment to a hydroelectric project in the country that it is also funding, pointing out that such structures require lots of cement and concrete. This follows a previous upgrade project by owner Kazakhstan-based United Cement Group (UCG) at the plant from 2021 to March 2023. This involved efficiency and environmental gains such as installing bag filters and converting a cement grinding mill to a closed circuit. China-based and CNBM subsidiary China Triumph International Engineering was the lead project partner. In early December 2023 UCG announced that it had signed another contract with China Triumph International Engineering over the summer to build a new dry production line at the site with a clinker capacity of 0.8Mt/yr. At the time of the announcement it said that preparation of the construction site had started and that work had begun on installing a pile foundation.

Finally, one more Kyrgyz news story of note in recent months was the announcement in October 2023 that the government had effectively nationalised the Kurmentinsky Cement plant in Issyk-Kul Region. The reason why it had done so was unusual because it said that a 93% share in the company running the plant had been transferred to the State Property Management Agency following the death of its former owner. The former owner was one Kamchybek Kolbaev, an organised crime boss who had been listed on the US Department of State Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program and was reportedly killed by state security services in early October 2023. The remaining shares in the plant have been passed to its workers and the government further said that it intends to upgrade the site.

The cement sector in Kyrgyzstan is modest and in need of modernisation. It appears to be having a resurgence at the moment though with production mounting and at least two major plant projects underway. The country is in a compelling position economically and geopolitically given its membership of the Russia-backed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and its proximity to China. Various projects backed by the latter’s Belt and Road Initiative, both underway and forthcoming, would certainly appear to benefit from more efficient local cement production and higher volumes.