Azerbaijan, Baku, March 16 / Trend S.Agayeva /
Trend interviewed Azerbaijani Ambassador to Austria Fuad Ismayilov.
Trend : Mr. Ambassador, how do you assess the Azerbaijan -Austria trade-economic relations and what should be done for further development of cooperation?
Ismayilov: Both countries have great interest and potential to develop trade and economic relations. Unfortunately, the present figures do not satisfy us and in terms of turnover and in terms of number of firms and companies operating today. Actually, the Azerbaijan-Austrian Commerce and Industry Chamber (ATAZ) was established to this end. We believe that we need some kind of structure that would facilitate and assist businessmen to carry out activities in Austria and Azerbaijan.
This is necessary and there is a clear need for it. Of course, it should be noted that Austria did not have an embassy in Azerbaijan for many years, so we hope that opening Austrian embassy in Baku also will increase the trade turnover between the two countries and strengthen economic relations.
In general, there is great interest from both sides and the potential is fairly high. There are special directions in which we think may be signed contacts: the construction, city planning, infrastructure development, tourism and tourism management, agriculture and alternative energy sources. The last one is very topical today and Austria could become a reliable partner for Azerbaijan in this sphere.
Q: What is the level of trade between the two countries and what is the percentage of entire Azerbaijani exports?
A: In 2009, the volume of trade turnover amounted to about 100 million euros and the vast majority, of course, is import to Azerbaijan. Naturally, we had a lot of effort to increase our exports to Austria.
Today, I have talked with the Cahan Holding head. This is one of those companies, which, in principle, potentially is able to increase the export of our goods to Austria. But it should be noted that it is necessary to improve the quality of goods to ensure comply with the required European standards to export the goods, not only to Austria, but also to European Union markets.
Only in this case we will get a chance to enter the European market. And naturally, one need to think about what Azerbaijani products today could be in demand in Europe. We need to find that same zest to win.
I think there is a chance and just we have to work harder on this issue, and to plan all carefully. Returning to the establishment of the ATAZ, I want to note that it may become the basis, which could help us. They are ready to assist the Azerbaijani companies so that they gradually appeared on the Austrian market. Today, SOCAR representation acts in Vienna, but this is an energy company. We would like Azerbaijani companies to be represented in Austria more widely. We have something to show and sell, but very much depend on the quality of goods.
Q: What is the level of political relations between the two countries?
A: We do not have any problems or unresolved issues in the political sphere. We have solved the issue of opening the Austrian embassy in Azerbaijan, and this once again proves Austria's interest in Azerbaijan. In 2010, Austria plans to open only one diplomatic mission and it will be opened in Azerbaijan.
Austria is interested not only in energy projects. Today we have a lot of other areas where the country wants to cooperate with Azerbaijan, but also in political terms. Austria understands that presently Azerbaijan is the leader in the region, it is the developing country in the South Caucasus, this country is conducting an independent foreign policy, it has a stable political situation, and this contributed to the decision to open an embassy in Baku.
Q: Are Austrian companies interested in investing in the tourism sector in Azerbaijan?
A: We have very good cooperation in the field of tourism, tourism management. There is an agreement on cooperation between the Azerbaijan Tourism Institute and the University in the city of Krems, which is training personnel for the tourism management, and this cooperation has been continuing for several years. We have discussed the issue of internships of our students in Austria and the exchange of teachers.
There is also a large-scale construction project of the winter tourist complex in Gusar district of Azerbaijan, and the Austrian ILF company develops the concept of this project. I think that a number of Austrian companies will be attracted to the building. As known, Austria has great experience and opportunity in the field of winter tourism. Many Austrian companies already display an interest in this project.
Q: How do you assess today's chances of realizing Nabucco pipeline project and what is Azerbaijan's significance in this project, particularly in the diversification of sources of gas supplies to Europe?
A: Today many talks are held on the Nabucco project, but concrete work is not done much. There are many unresolved issues. One of them is the question of sources for the pipeline. Today, it is clear that sufficient gas volumes are necessary to fill the pipeline. Starting construction depends on this. Today, the consortium does not have sufficient agreements to fill the pipeline.
Azerbaijan is politically ready to support this project, and we have repeatedly stated this. But Azerbaijan is unable to fill the pipeline, of course, here it is necessary that other countries would be more active, our Central Asian neighbors should be more actively involved in this project. Much depends on Turkmenistan's position on this issue. Today, there are not other real sources for Nabucco. Iran's participation is impossible today for political reasons, whether it will be possible to connect Iraq to the pipeline is still under a big question. Today, the most real supplies for Nabucco are Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Our position is known, and the Europeans need to work more actively with Turkmenistan.
Another important issue is the financing of the project. Today still there is not enough information on how to finance the project. Another difficult point is the transit tariffs. Negotiations are already held with Turkey on this issue, but negotiations are very difficult.
But, in general, Europe displays a great interest in Nabucco project, it needs to carry out more actions.
Q: You are also Azerbaijani ambassador to Slovakia and Slovenia. What is the current level of Azerbaijan's cooperation with these countries in economic and humanitarian spheres?
A: In principle, we are at the initial stage, but, nevertheless, we observe their great interest in Azerbaijan. After Slovenia and Slovakia became independent, they had their priorities - entrance to the EU, NATO. Now they have successfully resolved these issues and are already starting to look more at our side, are interested in developing bilateral ties not with the EU, but with the countries of the former Soviet Union.
And Azerbaijan is of particular interest for both countries, and it can be traced on the number of bilateral contacts in recent period. In November last year, the Slovenian president, Danilo Turk, made an official visit to Azerbaijan, and the Foreign Minister of Slovakia Miroslav Lajcak's visit to Baku completed just recently.
I would like to emphasize that there are good opportunities for Azerbaijan's cooperation with the countries of Eastern Europe, and there is a good base. These countries have passed the same way that we go through now. They are similar to our mentality, they better understand and accept us, business people willingly go to the cooperation with Azerbaijan. The interest is very high, and we must work even more closely with them. Our embassy in Austria has been accredited in Slovakia and Slovenia since 2006, now our honorary consulate operates in Bratislava, an office of our embassy was opened in Ljubljana, that is, we already have opportunities to regularly work in the places.