Baku, July 19, AZERTAC
An Azerbaijan-Italy business forum has been held at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, who is on an official visit in Azerbaijan, attended the forum.
Azerbaijan’s first lady Mehriban Aliyeva and the Italian President’s daughter Laura Mattarella also joined the forum.
Along with the officials from Azerbaijan and Italy, the business forum brought together about 350 businessmen involved in the fields of energy, construction, design and architecture, infrastructure, transport, agriculture, logistics, engineering and industry.
The presidents made speeches at the forum.
Speech of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
- Dear Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen!
Dear Mr. President, let me sincerely welcome you to Azerbaijan once again and say "You are welcome!". Your visit is of tremendous importance. During the discussions in yesterday's meetings, we became further convinced that Italy and Azerbaijan are very close to each other, are friendly and partner countries. Our partnership is underpinned by joint interests and the same attitude towards international issues. It is no coincidence that Italy and Azerbaijan officially confirmed their strategic partnership a few years ago and adopted a declaration.
Your visit to Azerbaijan once again confirms that our ties of the nature of strategic partnership. A very open and sincere exchange of views on a number of issues was conducted yesterday. We want Italian-Azerbaijani relations to continue to develop as successfully and swiftly. The President's visit gives a powerful impetus to the development of these ties. Of course, when political ties are at a high level, the business communities immediately see and realize that and begin to take steps. Our political relations – Mr. President and I had an exchange of views on this yesterday – are at the highest level. I can say that they are perfect, cooperation both in a bilateral format and within the framework of international organizations is very positive.
Of course, the business circles should and are using these opportunities. A good example of this is the opening of a polypropylene plant yesterday. It is an excellent enterprise we have created together. I told Mr. President Sergio Mattarella yesterday that this is a modern technological product of Italy in Azerbaijan. Of course, this plant is an example of cooperation between companies. We want this cooperation to deepen and expand in the future, so that new projects are implemented. There are extensive plans related to the industrial and economic development of Azerbaijan. The process of industrialization in Azerbaijan is going very fast. Of course, we need reliable and experienced partners. Italian companies are such partners because they have been linked to Azerbaijan for many years, have an excellent reputation and the highest technological capacity.
Therefore, I believe that further cooperation in the economic sphere should be carried out in several directions. Italian companies are invited to Azerbaijan both at the level of presidents and at the level of government. I believe that Italian companies will take an active part in future projects related to our industrial development. We would be happy if Italian companies invested more in Azerbaijan. There are good opportunities for this. Foreign and local investments worth about $250 billion have been made in Azerbaijan. The investment climate is very good and foreign investments are safely protected by law.
Italian companies work as contractors in various spheres in Azerbaijan. We are seeing this now. Such cooperation has been established in the sectors of construction, infrastructure, heavy industry, agriculture and processing. However, I do not believe that it is at the proper level. We must raise this level, and I hope the business communities talk about this today. Therefore, I believe that investment and work as contractors should become the main directions for the coming years.
Of course, Italian companies should know what our plans are. Our plans are published every year. The state investment program is executed every year. We have five-year plans for social and economic development. Since 2004, these programs have been published and implemented. They specify all the work to be done in Azerbaijan. They include infrastructure projects, the construction of social facilities in cities and even settlements and villages – whatever is related to technological development. You simply need to get this information. I believe that the business forum will play a positive role in providing this information.
The overall economic development of Azerbaijan is very positive and successful. As for the turnover, Italy is the first trading partner for Azerbaijan. However, we must admit that this is based on the crude oil factor because Azerbaijan transports most of crude oil in the direction of Italy, so the turnover is measured in large figures. We want our turnover to be diversified. We can export and import more non-oil products to and from Italy. Therefore, we must definitely consider the issues of diversification of trade in the future.
Over the past 15 years, Azerbaijan has developed very successfully from an economic point of view. Over the past 15 years, the economy, i.e. the gross domestic product, has grown 3.2 times. I think this is a record figure on a global scale. I think it is even more important that we have achieved good indicators in addressing social issues. Unemployment in Azerbaijan has sharply dropped and is at the level of 5 per cent. Poverty has declined from about 50 to 5.4 per cent. Our external debt accounts for only 20 per cent of the gross domestic product. The foreign exchange reserves of Azerbaijan are equal to the gross domestic product. In other words, all these indicators are evidence of a positive macroeconomic situation. Leading international institutions of the world also appreciate the activities of Azerbaijan in this field. The Davos World Economic Forum has ranks the economy of Azerbaijan in 35th place in the world in terms of competitiveness. I think this is an excellent indicator. According to other calculations of the same Davos forum, for example in terms of infrastructure development, Azerbaijan is ranked in 26th place in the world. In recent years, major infrastructure projects have been implemented, and Azerbaijan ranks third among developing countries in terms of inclusive development.
As you know, we have successfully implemented major energy projects. We have connected the seas. We have connected the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea by an oil pipeline. After that, we connected the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean by an oil pipeline. These are historic projects. We have practically redrawn the energy map of Eurasia and continue to do so. At present, we are successfully implementing the Southern Gas Corridor project. I would like to briefly note this as well. The Southern Gas Corridor consists of four projects. The second phase in the development of the giant gas field of Shah Deniz – this project was completed; the South Caucasus gas pipeline, through which Azerbaijani gas is transported in the direction of Georgia; the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline, TANAP, is a gas pipeline laid through the territory of Turkey, and the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline, TAP. Three of these four projects have already been implemented. In May this year, the official opening of the Southern Gas Corridor took place in Baku and of the TANAP project in Turkey in June. This giant project with a financial volume of over $40 billion links several countries and many companies. This project is being completed, as three of the four components of it have been successfully implemented. Thus, Azerbaijani gas will secure a place in the space of the European Union in the near future.
Another important area is transport. From a geographical point of view, we do not have access to the world ocean. But despite this, we are creating an international transport and logistical hub in Azerbaijan. A lot of diverse work has been done for this purpose. Six international airports have been created in Azerbaijan over the past 15 years. Repairs are under way on the railways within Azerbaijan. In May this year, the largest trade sea port in the Caspian basin was put into operation. At present, its cargo handling capacity is 15 million tons and will reach 25 million tons in the future.
Over the past 15 years, a total of 15,000 kilometers of roads have been built. We are connected with all the neighboring countries by beautiful roads. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway connecting Azerbaijan and Turkey was commissioned in October last year. Thus, the shortest route from Asia to Europe and back has been opened through the territory of Azerbaijan. Whereas the traditional journey by sea took 30-35 days, the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway route can transport goods from Asia to Europe in just two weeks. We can see that freight traffic along this route is increasing every day. It will become a new very reliable transport artery in the future.
In parallel, Azerbaijan is an active participant and member of the North-South transport corridor. We have invested heavily in this sphere. The North-South transport corridor is functioning at present. All the necessary infrastructure is being created on the territory of Azerbaijan. Goods are safely transported through the territory of Azerbaijan now. In the future, as a result of additional investments in neighboring countries, the capacity of this route will be further increased.
All this infrastructure allows us the opportunity to continue investing heavily in Azerbaijan, because all the oil and gas pipelines are in operation for future investments in the oil and gas sector. Their construction continues. Transportation opportunities for investment related to new industrial enterprises are quite extensive. I should also note that Azerbaijan has the biggest commercial fleet in the Caspian basin. We have an excellent investment climate. More than 200 vessels carry cargo in the Caspian waters today.
Azerbaijan is a very stable country, both politically and economically. Therefore, I believe that Azerbaijan is a beautiful country for investment.
Of course, foreign guests might think that I am just praising our country here. I am not making a secret out of it – I am, and I should do that. After all, every head of state should strive to make his country better known and attract investment. But this praise is only fair. I am telling our guests the truth and hope that they are even more interested in coming to Azerbaijan and working here after my words.
Mr. President, let me thank you once again for visiting Azerbaijan and honoring us. You took part in the opening of a polypropylene plant in Sumgayit yesterday. And today you will say your word to business people together with us. Thank you.
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