Openness and isolation: The trade performance of the former Soviet Central Asian countries

Previous studies divide the former Soviet Central Asian countries (CACs) into ‘‘more open’’ (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) and ‘‘more isolationist’’ (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) depending on their trade-to-GDP ratio. We investigate this by gravity analysis measuring contributions of country-specific properties and networking factors in 185 bilateral CACs trade flows over the period 1995–2011. Our findings suggest that while all CACs have experienced growing trade over the period, they show considerable variety in initial conditions and transition reforms. The more solationist countries have mostly relied on fortuitous factors such as hikes in natural resource prices to boost their trade, whereas the more open, reform-minded states have achieved considerable trade growth through reducing trade costs. Being an open or isolationist economy has resulted, respectively, in more or less suitable environment for business and investment.