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Denton Wilde Sapte is putting pressure on the Kazakhstan government to halt its plans to overhaul laws governing foreign investors.
It is also advising its clients, which include the Kazakhstan Petroleum Association, over separate proposals to revamp petroleum. Kazakhstan is concerned that current laws, which promote intervention by foreign investors into the local economy, will bar its own people from benefiting from the country's oil surplus, which amounts to three to four billion barrels per day of oil exports, making the country the third or fourth-largest oil exporter in the world. Dentons has not only criticised the government's plans to make an even playing field between domestic and foreign investment, but also the nature of its proposals in the draft foreign investment law. The firm's views have been echoed in letters to the Kazakhstan prime minister by the European Business Association and the American Chamber of Commerce. Partly as a result of pressure by Dentons, the government proposal for a state insurance to cover political risk has been withdrawn. Marla Valdez, the managing partner of Dentons' Kazakhstan office, which is based in the country's former capital Almaty, says: "This proposal didn't make much sense, it didn't have many details included in terms of how it would work, and its practical points are quite disconcerting. We're trying to encourage the government to reconsider its provisions." Dentons is pressurising the government to withdraw its proposal to eliminate stabilisation for future contracts - a government guarantee that any changes in legislation which negatively affect the position of foreign investors will not apply for 10 years after the initial investment. The firm suggests that this should apply to local investors. The government's plans to narrow access to international arbitration in disputes has been watered down. Dentons is also fighting plans for the removal of customs exemptions on capital investment. Nevertheless, even if the draft legislation passes successfully through parliament early next year, Valdez does not expect a major investment downturn because the rules apply to future, and not current, foreign investors. Valdez says: "The government probably considers that it's in such an economic situation that it doesn't need the same type of protection which it needed at the beginning stage of development."