Weekly actual topics in Azerbaijan (March 12-16)

Foreign Ministry talks Azerbaijan's joining WTO

Azerbaijan can accelerate the process of accession to the World Trade Organization, but under certain conditions, Azerbaijan's Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev told Trend.

He was speaking March 12 on the sidelines of an event dedicated to the launch of the new institutional set-up of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative in Brussels.

"We need to join the WTO, and it was stated at a high political level that we consider it expedient to join this organization. But this requires time," he said.

The deputy minister noted that Azerbaijan should now achieve good results in diversifying its economy.

"We now consider trade relations a priority. After achieving serious results of reforms in the economic sphere, I think we can speed up the accession process," he said.

Mammadguliyev noted that Azerbaijan, most likely, will join the organization as a developing country.

"We are a developing country and we need time to become a developed country. We are acting in accordance with documents, WTO agreements, and I think we will enter as a developing country. There are WTO documents that enable us to achieve what is needed, particularly, the issue is the support to the agriculture," the deputy minister said.

Azerbaijan launched negotiations with the WTO member states in 2004. Azerbaijan submitted to the organization 400 documents, including 300 legislative acts, and also answered more than 2,000 questions of WTO member countries.

As of today, the country has completed negotiations and signed protocols with Turkey, Oman, the UAE, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Azerbaijan is at the stage of signing protocols with China and Moldova. Presently, the country is in talks with 13 countries.

Azerbaijan has had an observer status at the WTO since 1997.

Azerbaijan can significantly up share of SMEs in GDP structure - MP

Azerbaijan has all the opportunities to increase share of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the GDP structure up to 50 percent , Azerbaijani MP Rufat Guliyev told Trend.

"According to statistics, the share of SMEs in the gross domestic product of the EU, the US and Japan ranges from 55 percent to 70 percent. In Azerbaijan, this figure is at a lower level today. However, I believe that it is possible to bring the specific share of SMEs up to 50 percent of GDP," Guliyev said.

He said that presently, the Center for Simplified Support to Family Businesses (ABAD) and the self-employment program are making a big contribution to the development of SMEs in Azerbaijan.

"These projects are very important not only for development of the business sector, but also for increasing the employment of the population in the regions. As a result of the work done, 33 regions of Azerbaijan have already achieved self-financing," he said.

The State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan reported that the number of business entities registered in Azerbaijan exceeded 880,000, while the share of the private sector in the employment structure exceeds 75 percent.

According to the Strategic Road Map of Azerbaijan, the share of small and medium-sized businesses in the country's GDP is planned to increase to 15 percent until 2020, and to 35 percent - until 2025. After 2025, this figure is expected to increase to 60 percent.

As of Jan.1, 2016, the share of small and medium-sized businesses in the country's GDP was four percent.

Azerbaijan can completely stop importing agro products

Azerbaijan has all the opportunities to completely stop importing agricultural products, the former agriculture minister of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Rajab Orujov, told Trend on March 13.

Presently, the main agricultural product imported to Azerbaijan is grain, according to him.

"This is due to the fact that the quality of grain produced in Azerbaijan, particularly wheat, does not correspond to food standards. However, this is not linked to natural factors, as wheat was historically grown in Azerbaijan," Orujov said.

The expert noted that the reason is non-compliance with agro-technical measures in the production of cereals.

"There is a need to improve the agro-technical measures in the production of cereals. It is necessary to apply innovative technologies, to carry out proper care for crops, " the expert said.

He noted that Azerbaijan has all the necessary natural conditions for growing not only wheat, but also soybean, corn and sugar beet.

"It is just necessary to strengthen the selection work, carry out the proper care of the crops. And if these norms are met, then Azerbaijan can completely abandon the import of agricultural products and use the potential of the Kura-Araz lowland, where most of the country's irrigated areas are located. This will allow us to get harvest twice a year, "Orujov said.

In 2017, Azerbaijan imported 1.2 million tons of wheat, which is 25 percent less than in 2016.

In 2017, Azerbaijan produced agricultural products worth 6.58 billion manat, which is 4.2 percent more than in 2016.

Azerbaijan's agriculture sector needs large cooperatives

The process of creating large farms and agrarian cooperatives, initiated by the Azerbaijani leadership, will positively impact the development of the country's agriculture, the former agriculture minister of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Rajab Orujov, told Trend on March 13.

This process will significantly accelerate the application of advanced innovative technologies in the agriculture sector, according to the ex-minister.

"It is very difficult to apply innovative technologies on small land plots, as their use and creation of the necessary infrastructure requires large areas. Thus, the creation of large farms will positively affect usage of empty lands in agricultural production, expansion of irrigated areas, and facilitate the use of innovative technologies," believes Orujov.

The creation of large farms, according to Orujov, is also important for more effective use of labor force in the country's regions. In addition, the specialization of enterprises and farms plays an important role in the development of agriculture, he added.

"The specialization of economic enterprises also plays a very important role. There are already about 30 specialized enterprises operating in the country, production results of the majority of which are 2-3 times higher than the average for the country. The specialization also affects the reduction of production costs and, as a result, promotes profit growth . This also plays a big role in increasing the export potential of Azerbaijan's agricultural products, "Orujov said.

In 2017, Azerbaijan produced agricultural products worth 6.58 billion manat, which is 4.2 percent more than in 2016.

"Silk Road" project to give impetus to Mongolia-Azerbaijan co-op

The "Silk Road" project will give impetus to cooperation between Mongolia and Azerbaijan, as well as other countries of the region, Mongolian Foreign Minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar said at the first conference of the Silk Road Support Group of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Baku March 13.

"We can not underestimate the importance of the Silk Road, as well as the One-Belt-One Route initiative, which is also part of this route. We are on the threshold of new opportunities, and Mongolia, in this regard, will make the necessary contribution to developing cooperation with the participating countries of this project from China to Europe, actively supported by the OSCE PA, "Tsogtbaatar said.

He further stressed the importance of Azerbaijan's role in the development of the route. In general, he said, the countries that are part of the Silk Road route, and contributing to its development, will get even greater counter contribution, expanding their economic potential.

Back in 2013, China announced a new strategy for economic development " One-Belt-One Route ", aimed at creating infrastructure and establishing links among the countries of Eurasia. The strategy includes two key areas of development: the economic belt of the Silk Road and maritime Silk Road. It is about creating a trade corridor for direct deliveries of goods from the East to the West on preferential terms.

Azerbaijan turned into transport hub – MP

Azerbaijan has great opportunities for further development of transport and transit potential, Azerbaijani MP Rufat Guliyev told Trend.

"Azerbaijan has achieved great success in developing transit and transport potential and has turned into a transport hub," he said. "Projects as the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK), the International North-South Transport Corridor, the Baku International Sea Trade Port contribute to development of transit and transport potential, and it is possible to increase the volumes of transportation by several times via these projects. This will contribute to the inflow of foreign currency into Azerbaijan, the increase of employment of the population, and the growth of the country's prestige on the international arena."

In order to fully use the potential of these projects, first of all, it is necessary to provide more information about the transport projects being implemented so that foreign companies have full understanding of their potential, he noted.

Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev said earlier that in 2017, 10.4 million tons of cargo were transited through Azerbaijan. This indicator grew 16 percent compared to 2016, he noted.

Presently, Azerbaijan implements several international transport projects.

The official opening ceremony of one of them, the BTK railway, was held in Baku Oct. 30, 2017. Another transport project with Azerbaijan's participation, the International North-South Transport Corridor, is meant to connect Northern Europe with Southeast Asia. It will serve as a link connecting the railways of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia. At an initial stage, it is planned to transport 5 million tons of cargo per year through the corridor and over 10 million tons of cargo in the future.

Also, construction of the Baku International Sea Trade Port, which will make an important contribution to the development of trade in the Caspian region, continues in Azerbaijan. The port's capacity is expected at 25 million tons of cargo and up to one million containers per year.

New Port of Baku at Alat located in one of most promising logistics zones of New Silk Road

New Port of Baku at Alat, a 20-square kilometer expanse of wasteland is the site of one of the most promising logistics and manufacturing zones of the entire New Silk Road, Forbes contributor Wade Shepard said in his article titled "5 New Silk Road Projects That Will Alter Your View Of How The World Works".

"The biggest point of sale of the New Port of Baku at Alat is its geographic position, sitting at the crossroads of the central corridor of the Belt and Road, which stretches from China to Europe and includes the newly opened Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, and the emerging North-South Transport Corridor, which connects India with Russia via Iran," said the article published in Forbes.

This is a region of the world that is rapidly developing and economically diversifying, and these transport corridors are acting as the framework that these transitions are being built upon, wrote the author.

Further, Shepard points out that the New Silk Road the network that's of significance-a network that's seeing diverse economies and political systems from China to Europe being put on the same page via a more or less unified initiative. "This is something that has never happened before."

Earlier, Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev said that the first phase of construction of the Baku International Sea Trade Port in Alat settlement will be completed in May 2018.

Mustafayev noted that after the first phase's completion, the port's capacity will be 15 million tons per year.

"The port's capacity will be increased up to 25 million tons of cargo and 500,000 containers per year at the second stage, and up to one million containers per year - at the next stage," noted the minister.

In 2017, the volume of freight traffic through the Baku International Sea Trade Port (excluding the oil terminal) rose by 31 percent and totaled 4.4 million tons as compared to 2016. About 85.7 percent of the total volume accounted for the share of transit cargo transportation.

Azerbaijani, Iranian transport projects may become part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative - Charles Stevens

The long anticipated Baku-Tbilisi-Kars line helps to forge the transport links for a viable trans-Eurasian trade route, which passes through Central Asia, the founder of The New Silk Road Project Charles Stevens told Azernews.

Charles Stevens is the founder of The New Silk Road Project. In 2016 he cycled 10,000km along the ancient Silk Road from Beijing to Tehran. He enjoys reading, writing, public speaking, racket sports and anything entrepreneurial.

The New Silk Road will investigate various proposals and promises of the new Belt Road Initiative. This project will involve an epic 10,000-mile journey around 18 countries over approximately 45 days in the summer of 2018.

Stevens added that with the current electrification of the Tehran Mashhad railway line and the wider Iranian network by 2025, this will help increase freight transportation volume along the link.

"The Astara Transit Terminal is also an exciting addition to the blossoming North South Transport Corridor," Stevens stressed.

Previously, Azerbaijan expressed its intention to utilize railway facilities in the northern Iranian city of Astara for at least a decade in return for the construction of a railway segment connecting the two countries. In October 2017, Azerbaijan and Iran finalized the negotiations for financing the Rasht-Astara railway as well as the construction of the 10 kilometers long Astara (Iran) - Astara (Azerbaijan) railway segment.

"I have been following some of the developments in Azerbaijan closely and I think they are significant. Azerbaijan is participating in a project to both further economic opportunity and recast Eurasia into a contiguous and coherent whole. As a country, it is well placed to be important in one of these most exciting developments," said Stevens.

He believes that over the coming years there will be a further growth in the freightage brought from Iranian ports which drastically cuts transport times of good traveling from India to Europe from 40 to 15 days.

Whilst the North South Corridor is not a part of BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), it plays a wider role in Eurasian integration, he said.

"It demonstrates that the 'New Silk Road' is bigger than just projects associated with BRI and is not owned by a single country," according to Stevens.

The International North-South transport Corridor is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail and road route for freight transportation between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road.

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