President Ilham Aliyev had working dinner with heads of Italian largest companies (PHOTO) (UPDATE)

Details added (first version posted at 22:10 on Feb. 20)

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Feb. 20


President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has had a working dinner with President of “Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA”, the Italian largest financial and banking institution, Giovanni Gorno Tempini and heads of more than 10 world-renowned largest, leading industrial and financial groups in Rome.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much! I would like to express my gratitude to CDP for the initiative to meet for a CDP-chaired luncheon. An Italian-Azerbaijani business forum with the participation of more than 100 companies will be held tomorrow. But today I am meeting with the biggest Italian companies – the leading companies of the Italian economy. We have been working very closely with some of them for many years. Some of them are planning to work with us, and this is fully consistent with our goals.

My state visit to Italy is very important. After the meetings with Mr. President, Prime Minister and Senate leader, I can say that my visit can already be considered successful. This is a continuation of the active dialogue that was stepped up after the visit of President Mattarella to Azerbaijan two years ago. The agreements reached at that time and the issues we discussed are currently being implemented. During my visit, some of the more than 20 documents have already been signed and more will be signed tomorrow. They cover various issues, including political, economic, trade, transport, cultural and other spheres. Among them, I want to specifically note the Joint Declaration on the development and strengthening of strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and Italy. This is indeed a very important political document that defines our close cooperation for many years to come. Italy, for us, as Mr. Chairman said, is not only the number one trading partner, but also one of the closest partners in Europe. I think that after the signing of this historically important document, our relations should enter a new stage.

In connection with the practical implementation of projects, I can say that Italian companies have signed contracts worth about $10 billion in the energy sector of Azerbaijan and energy projects funded outside of Azerbaijan alone. In the non-oil sector, this figure is around $700 million. Yes, I do agree that there is a large imbalance in our trade. However, we should also know that this is mainly due to our exports of oil to Italy. Therefore, we are interested in diversifying our exports. Of course, we should take additional measures to increase exports from Italy to Azerbaijan. Given our policy of diversification and industrialization, I can tell you that our non-energy industry grew by 14 percent last year and by a further 16 percent in January this year. This is caused by projects funded by public and private sectors in industry. Italian manufacturers are highly professional companies operating at a high level. Therefore, the technological renewal of Azerbaijan is our priority. I am sure that after my visit we will see more projects representing joint interests. During the visit, a very important Memorandum of Understanding was signed with one of the companies present here. This will be a fairly large agreement to be implemented by Leonardo. Today, with my participation and with the participation of the Prime Minister, a document was signed between our defense ministries. This will open a new page in our cooperation, and this is a very promising project because we are at the stage of modernizing our defense infrastructure. Azerbaijan's economic indicators are positive. The country's economy is stable. Our external debt is at a very low level – 17 percent of the gross domestic product. Reserves of freely convertible currency exceed our external debt six times. We can borrow any amount. Our main goal is diversification. After the completion of TAP, which we hope will happen very soon, we will achieve everything that we planned in the energy sector because, as you noted, we are one of the main exporters of oil to Italy today. I think that we are first. On the transportation of natural gas, we will become one of the leading countries. Therefore, the focus should be on the non-energy sector. We are approaching issues of agriculture, heavy industry and the relationship between small and medium enterprises. Of course, we welcome large investments from Italy and are ready to invest in Italian economy. Today, Azerbaijan’s investments in Italian companies and real estate amount to approximately $1.5 billion, and we have the potential for development.

One of the promising sectors of our economy is also the development of cooperation in the space industry and tourism. The number of Italian visitors to Azerbaijan is growing. There are many other sectors. In other words, close political relations provide a solid foundation for the business community. These close political relations gained further strength during my visit. Therefore, I am sure that Italian companies will be the most active companies in Azerbaijan in the coming years. With some of them – representatives of these companies are present here – we have been cooperating for a long time. We plan to start cooperation with others. I am sure that today's luncheon will be very fruitful, and we will see excellent results. Thank you for the invitation again. I am sure that during the discussions we will plan on a beneficial future for both sides.

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