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The best economy in the east

Kazakhstan led the world growth table in 2001 and credit rating agencies see it as a sound candidate for borrowing. Export credit agencies are not so confident, pointing in their ratings to paltry political reform and a nepotistic ruling elite.

Grigory Marchenko

It's official: Kazakhstan has a working free-market economy and it is booming. A string of announcements over the past few months has made the central Asian republic's economy the darling of international institutions and superpowers.

The US started the ball rolling in March when it recognized the country as a "market economy". It is a label that Washington has been reluctant to bestow on many of the countries of the former Soviet Union because of complaints by producers at home. Most of the former Soviet states are big exporters of cheap raw materials, produced at below-market costs thanks to what is effectively free power.

In part US recognition was a political payoff for Kazakhstan's support of the US-led anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan but it is also hard to ignore the country's rapid return to robust health. The Kazakhstan economy has shone in the past two years - and not just by comparison with the basket-case economies in the region.

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