Azerbaijan, Baku, Jan. 26 / Trend N. Ismayilova /
Trend interviewed Isaac Martin-Barbero, economic and commercial counselor at the Spanish embassy in Azerbaijan and Turkey, about the current state of economic relations between Spain and Azerbaijan and prospects of their development.
Q: What is the current level of trade and economic relations between our two countries?
A: On the current stage Spanish exports to Azerbaijan are about 30 million euros, whereas Azerbaijani exports to Spain are about 11 times much of that - about 330 million euros. This value already means something, but it is very much bellow its potential. Spain could and should be exporting much more and Azerbaijan could and, I believe, wants, to diversify its trade with Spain, because what [Azerbaijan] isexporting to Spain is mainly oil and oil products -their share is over 95 percent. There are good chances to see significant increase in the relations. For instance, these figures show trading goods, but we have very little exchanges in services. And now there is an increasing amount in services in the field of consultancy, engineering, architecture, that are not reflected in those figures.
Q: What Spain is ready to offer Azerbaijan as a trade and business partner and what are your country's main interests in Azerbaijan?
A: Azerbaijan is a country which is developing very quickly. It has a substantial growth rate even in a situation of world crisis. Azerbaijan is still holding its ground. It is not just growing, but also changing and transforming itself. It is diversifying its economy in fields such as tourism, transport infrastructure, renewable energy sources. And in all these fields we believe we can come up with the state of the arts solutions also in the field of agriculture, particularly in irrigation, modernization of cities, waste water treatment, and solid waste treatment. These are spheres in which our [Spanish] companies are well experienced and they are willing to share their experience with Azerbaijan. Also, those are fields in which international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others are active and our companies are participating in tenders that are financed or sponsored by such institutions. So, there is a lot to do, and I think we are just on the beginning of a new time in our bilateral relations.
Q: Does Spain plan to promote cooperation with Azerbaijan in the energy sphere, including in the field of alternative and renewable energy? It is known that Spain has a unique experience in the development of wind and solar energy, while Azerbaijan is planning to start using alternative energy sources.
A: There has been some interest, but it is still on early stage. Spain is among the world's top wind and solar energy producers. Also, our companies are producing [renewable energy] not just in Spain, but also outside of it. So, if Azerbaijan is going to develop energy sources, Spanish companies will like to participate in this process and they do have the experience to contribute. The Spanish government and Spanish institutions have relative experience to share, because it has been a bumpy road in some areas, and we have got some learning experience. Not everything was perfect from the beginning; there is a learning curve when it comes to development of renewable energy. We are willing to share this experience with our Azerbaijani friends definitely.
Q: Why are the Spanish companies so passive in Azerbaijan? How could Azerbaijan attract them?
A: I think it is low if we take it absolutely. If you compare what Spanish companies are doing elsewhere with what they are doing here yes they are not too present. But, if we compare what they are doing in the region, I think that there is a very rapid response especially when it comes to Azerbaijan and Georgia. The main constrain was basically that companies were not aware of the potential of the region, but that is changing.
We have companies that have been tendering here for projects of several hundred million euros in the region now. We have had last July here a mission of 10 architecture companies, sponsored by us [the Spanish embassy], later another mission of 6 companies came. So, I think that you are going to see much more of us [Spanish companies] in a very near future. We held very big seminar in Istanbul in July 2009 where we had 30 companies coming from Spain, with different sessions some of which were devoted to Azerbaijan. We are most likely going to organize another big regional seminar. So, we are promoting the region very actively. It will be definitely in the first half of this year, but we need a venue. The Azerbaijani embassy in Madrid is also extremely active and is doing very much to promote Azerbaijan and to make it better known to Spanish companies.
Q: When does Spain plan to open its embassy in Azerbaijan?
A: It's not a secret that Spain is now trying to introduce very strong cuts in its public budget. It is a hard time, but that's going to happen. The fact that the embassy is not open yet should not stop us from advancing in relations. It's going to come, but we should not just sit waiting for it. We should keep working on the bilateral relationship. The embassy will be opened and there is no doubt about that.
Q: Will Spain support Azerbaijan's integration into the European Union within the framework of the Eastern Partnership? What experience can gain Azerbaijan from Spain in this area?
A: Spain is a country which is well known with its open approach towards the EU. Spain does not see the EU as a club of the privileged, but sees it as a deep-reaching, political, social, economical and cultural project and in that sense I think we will continue being a friend of Azerbaijan and we will continue supporting Azerbaijan in its relations with the EU. We have an experience which comes from spending over 10 years as a negotiator to get into the EU, knowing that this membership is difficult, time costly, it requires often transformations within the country and strong commitment. It is very beneficial but at the same time very demanding.