Joining WTO would open up new avenues of EU - Azerbaijan cooperation: British ambassador Carolyn Browne (INTERVIEW)
Azerbaijan, Baku, Nov. 4 / Trend V.Zhavoronkova/
The UK ambassador to Azerbaijan Dr. Carolyn Browne spoke in an exclusive interview with the European Desk of Trend Agency.
Trend : You visited the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic last week. What are your impressions after this trip? What areas of potential cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic have been set as the priority directions?
Carolyn Browne: Although I've been visiting Azerbaijan since 1988, this was my first visit to Nakhchivan. I'd heard a great deal about it. But I wanted to see things for myself. So I spent three days talking to as many different people in Nakhchivan as I could - Parliamentary Chairman Mr. Vasif Talibov, members of the Nakhchivan department of the MFA, representatives from all the main political parties - Umid, YAP, Musavat, Popular Front and Civic Development parties - the Chairman of the Central Election Commission, the Rector of Nakhchivan State University, representatives of four NGOs, and foreign and international representatives who live in Nakhchivan. I had a lively question and answer session with a group of young students at Nakhchivan State University - I told them that the key to learning was never to stop asking asking questions. I also gave a press conference on my visit. I traveled to the customs post at Julfa on the border with Iran and into the mountains near the border with Armenia. And I talked to everyone I met - in shops, on the streets, at the Ashabi Kahf complex, with the students at the University and so on.
One of the main reasons for my visiting Nakhchivan was to see a project, which is funded by my Government as part of our support for the Azerbaijani Government's strategic choice to develop this country's partnership with Europe. We welcome and respect that choice - which is why UK taxpayers' money is spent on such projects. This particular project is run by the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, and concerns the monitoring of freedom of expression and other human rights issues.
As for potential areas of co-operation, Chairman Mr. Vasif Talibov requested me to explore ways of developing links in the cultural and educational fields. This was something I discussed at greater length with the Rector of Nakhchivan State University, who has already made contact with UK universities in Preston and elsewhere. I look forward to finding ways to develop those links further.
One issue which was not however raised during my visit was the potential for trade between the UK and Nakhchivan.
Q: What is your estimation of the level of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom? What steps should be taken to expand the bilateral cooperation?
A: In one word? I'd say "dynamic". It's a relationship which is both deepening in areas of existing co-operation - like trade in non-hydrocarbon goods and services. Another example would be our armed forces working side by side in Afghanistan as part of the same international coalition. But our bilateral co-operation is also broadening out into entirely new areas. Take for example the very positive co-operation which is developing between UK and Azerbaijani law enforcement bodies in respect of crimes which cross international borders. We had an excellent example of that recently - the UK law enforcement officials involved told me that it was one of the most positive experiences they have had in working with a non-EU member state anywhere in the world on such matters.
You can judge the nature of the bilateral relationship for yourself by looking at the number of areas referred to in the Joint Communiqué issued by my Prime Minister and President Aliyev during the latter's official visit to London earlier this year.
Of course, as in any relationship, there are things we don't agree on as well as things we do agree on. Take, for example, the BBC World Service's role in Azerbaijan. Following agreement in the Joint Communique to continue to discuss this issue, I had a meeting recently with Dr Ali Hasanov of the Presidential Apparat, during which he invited BBC World Service representatives to visit Baku to continue their discussions.
Q: Currently, Azerbaijan sees active development of its non-oil sector, though British investments in the person of BP are mainly directed at oil industry in the country. What spheres of Azerbaijan's non-oil sector would be of British businessmen's interest?
A: Your country has been outstandingly successful in creating the conditions which have attracted and retained international investment in the hydrocarbons field. That's an achievement which many other countries - including some of your neighbors - have yet to match. The next challenge is for those conditions to be extended to all other sectors of your country's economy.
British businessmen - and women, too - are quick to explore opportunities where they think the commercial potential exists. In the two years I've been living in Baku, I've seen an increasing range of UK businesses operating outside the extractive industries sector look hard at doing business with Azerbaijan. One area in which there is particular interest is developing financial services in Azerbaijan. Following the visit of the Lord Mayor of the City of London to Baku in July, the extent of bilateral contacts in this area has increased significantly. And for the first time that includes the prospect of Azerbaijani investment in the UK, as well as British investment in Azerbaijan. Another positive development was the decision a few months ago by private sector interests to launch a new organization - the British-Azerbaijani Business Council - in order to develop the trade and investment links further.
Q: How do you view the UK's role as a mediator in the negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
A: My Government remains committed to working towards a peaceful and lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in accordance with the universally recognised principles and norms of international law. In practical terms, we therefore support the OSCE Minsk Group in their efforts to assist both sides identify such a solution. Our support is both political and practical. For example, we make available UK personnel and expertise to help the Minsk Group Co-Chairmen carry out their mandate. We also fund various projects to encourage and develop direct links between Azeri and Armenian civil society, since those links will be crucial to the successful implementation of a peace settlement, once that has been reached.
Q: Do you believe that restoration of the Turkish-Armenian relations could be a positive milestone in finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute?
A: Yes, we do. We see the commitment by Turkey and Armenia to establish diplomatic and bilateral ties as an important step towards normalizing relations, and we encourage all concerned to keep up momentum in this process to ensure that it has a positive impact for the whole region.
Q: What way do you believe to be the most appropriate for Azerbaijan to integrate into the European Union?
A: I think your question on "how" this happens is one which only the Government of Azerbaijan can answer. Look at the different ways in which other countries have developed their relations with the European Union. There are many ways in which it can happen; for example, the reasons which motivated my country to develop its relationship with what was then called the European Community are, I suspect, rather different to the reasons which motivated countries such as Estonia, Portugal, Cyprus or Ukraine to do so. But the key is that the relationship (however it happens) does indeed develop. That is why my Government strongly supports the new "Eastern Partnership" between the EU on the one hand and six countries formerly part of the Soviet Union on the other hand. How to deepen that relationship, based on the mutually shared principles and standards of the EU, was the subject of recent discussions last month in Luxembourg at Foreign Minister level between Azerbaijan and the European Union.
My own preference would be for Azerbaijan, as a first step, to join the World Trade Organization. That would automatically open up new avenues of cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan which, in time, would greatly develop links across a broad range of sectors. Of course joining the WTO first requires concluding the existing negotiations on membership. But with sustained commitment to sorting out the areas of debate, I'm confident that could be achieved.