Just before leaving for India in December, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a conference in Bishkek on efforts to standardize customs procedures across Central Asia. The project, called the Tulpar System, is a program spearheaded by the German development agency GIZ that brings together representatives from the five Central Asia governments so that they can cooperate to make international trade run more smoothly.
Currently, in order to import and export commercial goods legally in Kyrgyzstan, one must make sixteen separate trips to more than ten bureaucratic offices, each having their own paperwork and regulations. There is no centralized information center to tell you how to go about this or what stamps and notaries are necessary. As a result, most goods are cross the borders illegally. Businesses that are compelled to follow the law hire customs specialists to navigate the maze of regulations.
The Tulpar System is a management technology based on the concept of “single window” registration and payment. It is the result of many years of customs reform efforts in the developed world that followed the logic of anti-protectionist “free” trade and streamlined efficiency. Although many local counterparts in Central Asia voice support for implementing the Tulpar System in their countries, the project seems to be caught in limbo as it comes up against the inertia of already existing bureaucratic structures and practices. Additionally, I doubt that the scheme will be successful unless it benefits business leaders (like those in Dordoi).
Recent anthropology has focused on ways that technical expertise is contentious and polyvalent. The idea that assumptions and practices of any technical field are uniform across space and time is a myth; culture always plays a role in how actors wield knowledge. Some famous examples of anthropological investigations into this include the work of Paul Rabinow, Adriana Petryna, and Joao Beihl. But equally interesting is the research being done by other doctoral students. (CB and JR, I’m thinking of you.)