USAID, Azerbaijan to launch $18 million trade project

By Nigar Orujova

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Azerbaijani government are preparing a new trade project, USAID Mission Director in Azerbaijan Brooke Isham said on September 19.

Baku hosted an event dedicated to the completion of the "Competition and trade in Azerbaijan" project on September 19. The project, estimated at a total of $22 million, was co-financed by USAID and Azerbaijan's government.

The new project will be a continuation of the "Competition and Trade in Azerbaijan" project, which draws to a close on September 30.

According to Isham, the project, whose details are still being negotiated, will cost $18 million. Half of the funding will be provided by the government and the rest by USAID.

The term of the new project is likely to be the same as the previous one -- three years, Isham said.

According to the chief negotiator, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammadguliyev, the implementation of the project has played an important role in the process of Azerbaijan's accession to the World Trade Organization.

"We have made significant progress in this process in recent years, and U.S. support was very useful in this," Mammadguliyev said.

He expressed hope that the parties will sign an agreement on starting the new project ahead of the beginning of the next round of WTO negotiations, due in late October or early November.

Work has been jointly carried out on the project over three years on Azerbaijan's private and public sectors to achieve progress in competition, taxes, banking, and job creation.

In addition, work with the banking sector has been done under the project to increase the potential of agricultural producers on raising funds.

U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar said at the event that the U.S. was seeking an immediate conclusion of bilateral negotiations with Azerbaijan on its WTO accession.

"The U.S. strongly supports Azerbaijan's accession to the WTO and believes that bilateral negotiations will be completed in the near future. Azerbaijan's accession to the organization will contribute to the development of the non-oil sector of its economy, which is a priority for the Azerbaijani government," he said.

Morningstar expressed his hope that the project will be continued in the future. He also thanked the Azerbaijani government for its participation in financing joint projects, saying that such projects indicate success in bilateral relations.

Azerbaijan's accession to WTO is expected to increase the country's non-oil exports.

Azerbaijan has been represented at the WTO as an observer since 1997. Since starting accession talks in 2004, Azerbaijan has held bilateral negotiations with about 50 countries and adopted relevant documents.

The country is holding bilateral negotiations on the issue with the United States, Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Norway, India, South Korea, Taiwan Province of China, Canada, Switzerland, Honduras and the European Union.