Azerbaijan, Baku, March 10 / Trend S. Agayeva /
Lithuanian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Kestutis Kudzmanas spoke with Trend on the anniversary of Lithuanian Independence Restoration Day, first celebrated March 11, 1990.
Q.: How do you assess the current state of political, economic and cultural relations between Azerbaijan and Lithuania? How did the global crisis affect their development?
A.: Over the past few years, one can see a growing trend of intensified relations between our two countries in all sectors - in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres of bilateral cooperation. All new aspects are involved in this cooperation. The contractual base laid before is now filled with concrete content from a bilateral point of view, as well as within the EU Eastern Partnership Program. Lithuania has recently won two tenders for the EU Twins program, through which the Lithuanian parliament is a partner of the Azerbaijani parliament. Cooperation between the Lithuanian Special Investigation Service and the Anti-Corruption Office of the Prosecutor General's Office in Azerbaijan is implemented within the second program. Good practice and experience in the field of European integration are passed for both projects.
Intensive visits continue on all levels. Azerbaijan is interested in our experience in moving from one political system to another and the development of small- and medium-sized businesses. We have over five years of knowledge in having made our political transition for the EU and in harmonizing our legal base, adopting new standards and regulations for private businesses and governmental agencies and joining the WTO. Azerbaijan is interested in all this measures. We are more than happy to share this experience with your country.
For example, Lithuania supplies Azerbaijan with IT and electronics. Our developments are interesting for governmental agencies in the country. The spectrum of our business relationship is extended. Besides high technologies, Azerbaijan receives our traditional products, including food, furniture, construction materials and fertilizers.
Tourism is developing in the bilateral direction. Of course, we have huge potential in this sphere. Azerbaijani tourism companies are gradually entering our tourism market. We are very happy.
In our turn, we offer Azerbaijani citizens curative tourism in Lithuania. Our medical centers are open for Azerbaijanis. Our major medical centers are popular in Europe. People from Europe visit us. This shows their high quality. Our resort treatment has been renowned for centuries.
Political relations between our two countries remain intense. The peak that was reached last year has not decreased. Economic ties continue to develop. Over the past three years, Lithuanian exports to Azerbaijan have increased 7.5 times.
Even amid the crisis, we try not to lose speed. In 2009, Lithuanian exports in the world reached $30 billion a year.
Q.: What barriers are there toward the development of business ties between our two countries? What is the role of our embassies in breaking down these barriers?
A.: The long distance plays a psychological role for businessmen. There was time when neighboring markets actually bought everything from us. Of course, the export of products such as furniture and industrial and consumer goods leads to an increase in their costs due to the long distance. But the distance does not play any role for high-tech products.
The second disadvantage is customs. Of course, it is easier for us to export our goods to Europe, as there are no fees for Lithuanian products in the EU. On the other hand, the same rules exist for our European competitors. But we also compete with Azerbaijani companies that produce high quality products. And this is a compliment for Azerbaijan.
Q.: How has the opening of a Lithuanian trading house in Azerbaijan increased the sales of Lithuanian products?
A.: Lithuania's trading house, which opened in Azerbaijan last year, of course, holds a certain exports niche. It mainly deals with food exports, including confectionery, dairy and other products.
Q.: What is the interest of Lithuanian banks and other participants of the financial sector in joining the Azerbaijani market?
A.: We offer Azerbaijan banking services and technologies through which Lithuania has retained leadership in Europe.
Lithuanian companies produce software for banks in the region. The IT sector has allowed banks to reach a very high current level of services. Now people in Lithuania actually do not go to the bank. All payments are made via the Internet. Our experience is interesting for Azerbaijani banks. Our companies come to Azerbaijan and offer their services. Even the Swedish and Scandinavian banks, which are known for their conservatism, acquire our banking technologies, not to mention the Russian banks and banks of other CIS countries.
Q: What assistance can Lithuania provide in Azerbaijan's integration into the EU under the Eastern Partnership Program? What experience can Azerbaijan learn from Lithuania in this field?
A: The Eastern Partnership is another area of successful cooperation between Lithuania and Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan is interested in our experience in border and customs control. We are the external border of the EU. Our customs and border service have been exemplary in this sphere, and we are ready to share our experience with Azerbaijan.
There are already concrete projects in which Lithuania cooperates with Azerbaijan. Among them, as I have already mentioned, there are EU projects on the Gemini program. Just Lithuania is Azerbaijan's partner in the rapid modernization of the country and exchange of experience. Azerbaijan is developing rapidly in many sectors, and we are also interested in the development experience in economy, and in different structures.
We successfully cooperate in training for staff of state authorities and the private sector, as well as training of diplomats. In our turn, we learn your experience in the region.
Another sphere of cooperation is the diversification of energy supplies to Europe, and in this our interests coincide. If one opens the EU market for Azerbaijan, it would be further enhanced as your and our energy independence. As you know, Lithuania 100 percent depends on Russia's oil and gas supplies, and naturally we look for alternatives. I think if new waves of Azerbaijani energy resources will be supplied to Europe, then Turkmenistan also will wish to join to this stream. Azerbaijan is an alternative energy supply of Europe and strategically important country for ensuring EU energy security.
Lithuania has modern technologies for the purification of contaminated areas, wastewater, and utilization of hazardous and toxic waste. We are ready to work in Azerbaijan in this sphere. And it is possible both within bilateral cooperation, and under the "Eastern Partnership" program of the EU.
Another opportunity for cooperation may be the sphere of civil defense, elimination of consequences of emergency situations, treatment of oil-contaminated areas on the sea and on land.
Q: We heard that an additional impetus will be given to Azerbaijan-Lithuanian relations, despite their high intensity in the near future...
A: You are well informed. Yes, in April, the first meeting of the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation and the Azerbaijani-Lithuanian business forum in Vilnius will be held, and we hope that all of these issues will be consolidated with the relevant agreements. This excellent opportunity for both government agencies and for the most active entrepreneurs will make our relationship even richer and more intensive.
Q:What are the prospects of cooperation Lithuania-GUAM? Can we expect Lithuania's joining to the organization in the near future?
A: Lithuania fully supports the activity of GUAM, but talking about joining the organization fails, as GUAM was established for other purposes. Lithuania is already in a different format. We are a member of the EU and NATO. But GUAM is a structure that contributes to the integration of its member states in Euro-Atlantic organizations. Lithuania is the GUAM's active partner and friend. We even cooperate with the organization in GUAM + Lithuania format and fully support all formats of the organization.
Q: How do you assess implementation of Eurasian oil transportation corridor project and supply of energy resources from the Caspian Sea to European countries via this route?
A: We are interested in any alternative energy supplies to Europe. We hope that the project Nabucco will be realized in the near future. Azerbaijan is ready to deliver its gas via the pipeline - for this it has capacity and necessary infrastructure.
Q: Lithuania is a member of the company Sarmatia, which is engaged in the development of the Odessa-Brody-Plock-Gdansk pipeline. How do you assess this project and which operations are carried out in this direction?
A:This project is commercially very attractive, as it covers many countries - from Azerbaijan to Poland and Lithuania, exactly for this purpose we need political will of all those states. We hope that the project will be continued.
Q:In recent years, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) has significantly expanded presence in the retail market of oil products sales outside Azerbaijan. Has Lithuania considered purchase of Azerbaijani oil products or SOCAR participation in retail sales in your country?
A: We are interested in SOCAR offers. Our entrepreneurs regularly send inquiries to SOCAR. After closing the nuclear plant in Lithuania we have great demand in black oil, and we are looking for suppliers of oil in large amount. The market works. Oil products offers sometimes exceed demand. And in the highly competitive conditions all will depend on the prices offered to us. So, we are open for cooperation in this field too.