Azerbaijani-Russian interregional forum kicks off in Gabala (UPDATE)

By Nazrin Gadimova

The 5th Azerbaijani-Russian interregional forum entitled "Interregional cooperation: new opportunities for growth" kicked off in Azerbaijan's Gabala on June 23.

Prior to the event, participants laid a wreath at the monument of National leader Heydar Aliyev. Then the delegations made a tour of some exhibitions of two countries' achievements.

chief of the Department of Social and Political Affairs at Azerbaijan`s Presidential Administration Ali Hasanov read a congratulatory message of President Ilham Aliyev to the forum.

"Holding the forum in Gabala, having the ancient history of Azerbaijan's statehood, is a significant event. This region, characterized by picturesque landscape, ethnic and religious diversity, has become one of cultural and tourist centers of our country," the message read.

"I think that the next Azerbaijani-Russian interregional forum will be held at a high level and in a business atmosphere. Currently, there is great potential for the development of trade-economic and humanitarian cooperation among Azerbaijan and the entities of the Russian Federation. The firm partnership and the favorable investment situation in our countries create the necessary conditions for more active involvement of the private sector in the inter-regional economic relations. Drawing on the positive experience gained in the sectors of energy, agriculture, banking, tourism, transport, we can set new targets for the near future," he said.

Department Chief of the Russian President on inter-regional and cultural relations with foreign countries, Vladimir Chernov, in turn, read a message of President Vladimir Putin.

"It is important that your representative forum, which turns five years old this year, has steadily increased its authority and remained all these years a popular platform for constructive dialogue across the spectrum of interaction regions of the two countries, as well as provides an excellent opportunity to open up significant potential of our cooperation in such fields as transport, energy, banking, investment, agriculture, tourism and education," the Russian president said.

Addressing the event, Azerbaijan's Economy and Industry Minister Shahin Mustafayev said this forum is an example of successful cooperation between the two countries, based on the principles of good-neighborliness and friendship. He also added that the trade turnover between the two countries amounts to $2.6 billion.

"Over the past ten years, Azerbaijan's investment in the Russian economy exceeded $1 billion," he said, noting the possibility of increasing of the trade turnover. "Azerbaijan has signed 160 agreements on cooperation with Russia's 15 subjects, and 40 of them are in the field of economy."

Russian Regional Development Minister Igor Slyunyaev, in turn, said the heads of state laid the tradition of holding such forums in Azerbaijan five years ago.

"Azerbaijan and Russia are successfully cooperating in different fields of energy, banking, transport and industry," the Russian minister emphasized. "The difficult situation in the world economy did not affect the development of trade and economic relations between the two countries."

Slyunayev added that the good tradition of holding the Azerbaijani-Russian inter-regional forums, laid by the two presidents has been supported and become a good stimulus for the development of interregional relations.

"Russia presented Azerbaijani entrepreneurs 18 investment projects totaling more than 260 billion rubles," Slyunyaev said.

"The main objective of each investment project in Russia is not only economic development of the regions, but, above all, increasing the quality of life of citizens. I am sure that the experience and knowledge of our Azerbaijani colleagues are extremely important in their implementation," he said while presenting the projects.

The Russian side presented a number of projects in 16 federal units of the

Russian Federation including Samara, Rostov, Tomsk, Moscow, Tambov, Kaliningrad, Tula, Novgorod, Volgograd, Karachay-Cherkess Republic, the Chuvash Republic, the Chechen Republic, the republic of Dagestan, Kamchatka, Krasnodar and Stavropol krai (provinces).

The Russian minister has paid special attention to the projects implemented within the framework of the preparation to the FIFA World Cup to be held in Russia in 2018.

All of these projects are implemented on public-private partnership principles; the Russian Federation welcomes foreign direct investment in the construction of the planned facilities, according to the minister.

Slyunyaev noted that the numerous investment projects in the agricultural sector may be interesting for the Azerbaijan investors. He said that currently new enterprises for agricultural production have already been opened in all Russian regions. The minister specially highlighted innovative projects to develop agriculture in the Tambov region.

"The fifth anniversary forum in Gabala brought together more than 500 people, including representatives from Russia's 25 regions. We are pleased not only with improvement of the quantitative indicators, but also with the growth of bilateral trade, which exceeds $3.5 billion," he further said.

Slyunyaev also noted that the next forum will be held in Russia, adding that Yekaterinburg, Ingushetia, Dagestan and Stavropol region wish to host the forum.

Addressing the forum, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia Polad Bulbuloglu said Azerbaijan and Russia have strategic friendly relations.

"The friendship relations today are strategic and become more widespread every year," he said, stressing the role of Russia as one of the world's political and cultural centers.

Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Vladimir Dorokhin, in turn, said the basis of the Azerbaijani-Russian relations is mutual understanding.

"The Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation must be enriched by the development of interregional relations," he said.

Azerbaijan and Russia are expected to sign a number of documents within the framework of the forum, which will run until June 24. A plenary session and some round tables are scheduled to be held on various areas of cooperation. They are expected to be attended by business circles of the two countries.

Earlier, Azerbaijan's capital hosted several business forums attended by delegations from Russian Udmurtia and Kaluga Oblast, Ulyanovsk Oblast, and representatives of Stavropol's companies.

Russia is the main trade partner of Azerbaijan in the CIS. Over the past ten years, the volume of Azerbaijan's investment in Russia's economy amounted to around $1 billion, $200 million of which fell on 2013.

About 570 Russian companies are operating in the country, and over $628 million was invested in fixed capital.