Interview with Trend News Agency (Azerbaijan)

    What can you say about the current level of cooperation between Belarus and Azerbaijan?

    Azerbaijan is one of Belarus’ important and reliable political and economic partners.

    Our bilateral relations have stood the test of time and have been advanced to the level of strategic cooperation relying on openness, trust, friendship, and mutual support. We remember that the leadership of Azerbaijan provided timely support to Belarus when the country was in a difficult situation.

    A big contribution to the development of Belarus-Azerbaijan cooperation was made by Heydar Aliyev with whom we laid a solid foundation of bilateral cooperation.

    It would be impossible to reach the current high level of our relations without the corresponding attention of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to these matters. Back then the sides managed to determine the priorities of bilateral cooperation and coordinated agreements offering practical advantages for Belarus and Azerbaijan.

    Your President and I maintain friendly and trust-based relations. Naturally, they have an impact on the entire system of interstate ties. There is a good practice of top-level meetings, the governments, parliaments, key ministries and agencies, business circles have established optimal cooperation.

    Belarus and Azerbaijan have similar positions on the international arena pursuing an independent foreign policy. And the interests of our nations are the priority of this policy.

    The Belarusian-Azerbaijani intergovernmental commission for trade and economic cooperation is working hard. More than 270 enterprises of Belarus and Azerbaijan are involved in mutual trade operations selling hundreds of products to each other. About 45 Azerbaijani companies are the dealers and distributors of Belarusian enterprises in your country.

    Industrial cooperation and the interaction in the services sector are vigorously developing. I am especially pleased to mention the enhancement of bilateral cooperation in investment. The Azerbaijani business implements projects to set up logistics and business centers, to offer hospitality and public catering services, to develop the infrastructure in Belarus. Investors are interested in such industries as construction, food industry, machine-building, transport, tourism, banking and insurance services.

    The sessions of the working group on innovative projects, business forums of communication ministries of the two countries are held on a regular basis. Continuous cooperation in this field helped our countries build the system of investment promotion which includes all stages from the design of projects to the application of results.

    The cooperation in other industries is increasingly vibrant. Belarusian and Azerbaijani scientists have established long-term contacts. They are implementing joint research projects.

    Leading artists of Belarus and Azerbaijan exchange tours every year. They are always a success.

    I am convinced that the existing system of political, trade, economic, educational, cultural, and other ties between our countries is an important factor for the vigorous development of bilateral strategic partnership.

    I would like to repeat one thing that was once said about the cooperation with Azerbaijan: it is God’s blessing to have such relations with every state.

    Does the existing form of cooperation between the two countries reflect their real potential?

    Belarus and Azerbaijan have a strong intellectual, education, scientific, economic, technological and manufacturing potential. Minsk and Baku are ready to search for and implement mutually beneficial projects. The two presidents focus their primary attention on the matter. There are examples of successful cooperation. For instance, since 2007 nearly 8,000 Belarus tractors and more than 3,500 MAZ vehicles have been assembled at the Ganja Automobile Plant. In 2015, this Azerbaijani company became the biggest assembly plant for Belarusian tractors outside the Eurasian Economic Union.

    There can be and should be more such examples of mutually beneficial projects. We are ready to take an active part in the projects that go beyond ordinary commercial shipments. These can be joint innovative manufacturing facilities set up to boost different economic sectors, intensified cooperation in the area of agriculture, production of consumer goods, transport, IT development.

    There is mutual interest in joining efforts to step up the sector of standardization, develop digital television, upgrade telecommunication networks and equipment, and also information security and traffic exchange.

    Keeping in mind Belarus’ existing experience in nuclear research, there are strong prospects for cooperation in developing Azerbaijan’s nuclear power industry.

    The sale of joint products in third countries is one of the priorities of our cooperation. By the way, Azerbaijan can play a key role in the promotion of these products on the markets of the Caucasus and the Middle East.

    The government of Azerbaijan plans to set up a number of industrial parks and districts in the country. Will Belarusian entrepreneurs be interested in such projects? Can they take part in them?

    Of course, the Belarusian side is interested in the fulfillment of these plans. We have a huge experience of work on external markets as far as the maintenance of the projects’ infrastructure is concerned. We can erect new buildings, offer turn-key construction services, deliver machinery and equipment. I think that Belarusian businessmen will find common ground with Azerbaijani customers. Belarus is open for cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, and is ready to fulfill any ideas if it helps strengthen our states and improve the wellbeing of people.

    Did the formation of the EEU stimulate the inflow of Azerbaijani investments to Belarus? What preferences can our investors have?

    Today we still cannot say for sure how the Eurasian Economic Union which was formed almost two years ago affected the inflow of Azerbaijani investments to Belarus. I will mention some figures. In 2015, the volume of investments to Belarus from Azerbaijani partners made up about $5.5 million. This is slightly more than 80% of the 2014 level when the EEU did not exist. In January-June 2016, the inflow of investments went up almost 50% over the level of the pervious year to exceed $4 million. So you see the dynamics. But one thing is clear: after the enforcement of the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty Azerbaijani businessmen investing in the Belarusian economy can enjoy free access to the markets of five countries, namely Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan, for their products. What is the peculiarity of this market? One of the main goals of the union was the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and workforce. Besides, this is the common customs territory with a corresponding tariff policy. There are equal business conditions for the members of the organization, single technical regulations, sanitary, veterinary, and phytosanitary norms.

    Apart from that, it is worth saying that Belarus has created a rather attractive investment and tax climate. There are a number of preferential regimes which can be very useful for foreign companies taking into account the peculiarities of their tax planning and optimization schemes. I mean preferential business conditions in free economic zones, the Hi-Tech Park, and the industrial park Great Stone which is a joint project with China. Additional bonuses such as lower investment expenditure and tax burden can be used by companies in small and medium-sized Belarusian towns.

    In October, after a long break, Belarus resumed the purchase of Azerbaijani oil. What other avenues of cooperation can Azerbaijan and Belarus mull over in the energy sector?

    It is one of the priorities for bilateral cooperation, including in the light of Belarus’s active effort to diversify energy resources. We have positive experience of joint work in the sector. Our country has preserved a well-developed petrochemical complex since the USSR times. These companies are advanced technologically, with a high oil refining ratio. They manufacture high-quality oil products that meet the international standards. More than 70% of products of the Belarusian petrochemical industry are exported. Therefore, Belarus is keenly interested in refining Azerbaijan’s oil. By attracting Azerbaijani oil to the Belarusian refineries, we will get an additional opportunity to expand our cooperation in the chemical sector. These can be mutual supplies of raw materials and closer cooperation between the chemical companies of Belarus and Azerbaijan.

    Cooperation in the use of renewable energy resources can also be promising. The range of possible mutually beneficial activities is wide, from joint research to building modern highly-efficient electric power plants.

    Is Belarus interested in the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route project initiated by Azerbaijan? It is expected that the time of delivery of cargoes between Europe and Asia will be significantly reduced.

    Yes, we are interested in it, too. In modern conditions the movement of goods between states is a rather complicated process involving a wide range of services. In this respect, the participation of Belarus in the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route as one of the links would be a logical step. Belarus has a high transit potential thanks to its favorable geographic location, well-developed logistics infrastructure, highly-qualified personnel.

    We cannot but ask this question. Will Belarus make its contribution to the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict taking into account the fact that your country has turned into a kind of a peacemaking platform in recent years?

    Belarus has become a peacemaker through the balanced and responsible policy that fully serves the national interests and promotes stability in the European region. Even our opponents recognize this undeniable fact today. Minsk is rightfully recognized by the international community as the most convenient platform for negotiating a peaceful settlement to the situation in the east of Ukraine.

    I say with all responsibility that we are ready to host meetings of different levels and formats in the Belarusian capital to promote the settlement of disputes between any conflicting parties, provided that they address us with such a request.

    This also applies to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Belarusians are not indifferent to the situation in Donbass, and feel deep sympathy for Karabakh. And this is understandable. Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and representatives of many other nations – we all come from one great country, one family called ‘the Soviet Union’. We will therefore make every effort for the sake of peace, normal life and stability.

    Belarus’ position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains the same: the problem can be solved only at the negotiating table and in accordance with principles of international law. As a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, Belarus is ready to provide the parties with the necessary assistance in the search for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. We believe that for people there is no thing of greater value than peace and tranquility in the country.