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U.S.-Azerbaijan business opportunities to top Washington conference

3 February 2017 09:00 (UTC+04:00)
U.S.-Azerbaijan business opportunities to top Washington conference

By Amina Nazarli

USACC will host Annual Conference with focus on business, trade and investment promotion between Azerbaijan and the United States on March 1-2, 2017. In an exclusive Interview with Azernews Susan Sadigova, Executive director of the U.S.- Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce based in Washington DC, talks about major milestones of the signatures.

Question: Could you share some information with our readers about the upcoming USACC Annual Conference on U.S.-Azerbaijan relations?

Answer: USACC Annual Conference is our signature event that we organize every year. The last conference took place at the Harvard Club of New York and generated a lot of interest from local business community. Our next conference is scheduled to take place on March 1-2, 2017 at the historic Willard Hotel of Washington, D.C. near the White House.

The first day of the conference will have separate discussion panels covering the topics of energy, banking and finance, economic reforms, investment opportunities in the non-oil sectors of economy, as well as discussions on public-private partnership opportunities in Azerbaijan.

On the second day USACC plans to organize a series of briefings and roundtables with focus on business opportunities in agriculture and food processing, renewable energy, as well as opportunities in the industrial parks of Azerbaijan with focus on petrochemical industry.

This year, in addition to banking and finance, we have a good list of companies and attendees representing other areas, such as international trade and export finance, import-export management, new product development, food processing, real estate development and renewable energy. This year we also invited experts specializing in so-called P3 (public-private partnership) projects, which I think is very essential instrument to attract foreign direct investments into Azerbaijan. U.S. offers great amount of knowledge, resources and expertise that can help Azerbaijan in the development of P3 basis business ventures. Whether it is P3 DBB (Design-Bid-Build) or P3 DBFOM (Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain) structures U.S. has enough resources to help Azerbaijan in that direction.

We already have a great line-up of speakers and experts and welcoming all the Azerbaijani companies to join this event to learn more about doing business with the United States.

Question: You presently serve as the Executive director of USACC. What are the principal activities of USACC?

Answer: Washington DC based U.S. - Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce was established in 1995. It is a U.S. incorporated non-profit organization managed by the Board of Directors, the members elected from the U.S. and Azerbaijani companies. The USACC was a key driving force behind the two of the world's most strategic and ambitious regional energy projects, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, both of which are operational today.

USACC owns a four-floor historic building located in the heart of Georgetown. The building hosts USACC as well as Azerbaijan Trade and Cultural Center (ATCC). The Azerbaijan Trade and Cultural Center (ATCC) was founded by USACC in September 2000 to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States and was inaugurated by late President Heydar Aliyev.

USACC organizes annual conferences, round tables, trade missions, industry-specific seminars, as well as member-to-member meetings in the United States and Azerbaijan, which brings together high-rank government officials and private sector representatives from both countries. On a regular basis, we organize trade missions of American companies to Azerbaijan and vice versa. In the organization of those missions we partner with both Azerbaijani and U.S. governments, as well as trade promotion and business development organizations in both countries.

Among other things USACC also organizes social events, such as Novruz, New Year and solidarity day celebrations for our diaspora members. Washington DC metro area houses the large number of our diaspora members. All these events provide multiple opportunities for business networking among our members and business community of tristate area, which includes the states of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Overall, all USACC activity aimed at serving the interests of its members, and as a platform for members to network, grow business contacts, exchange ideas, share knowledge and experience of doing business in both countries. USACC is also a good starting point for its members in gaining market insight and helping to locate local partners both in Azerbaijan and the United States.

Question: What business prospects do you see for U.S. investors in the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan’s economy?

Answer: While the main target of Azerbaijan today is to diversify its non-oil exports, the attraction of investments, advanced technologies and management experience from abroad is, still, one of the main directions in Azerbaijan's economic policy. Both U.S. and Azerbaijani companies are encouraged to partake and submit their proposals to their counterparts in either country. USACC can serve as a bridge and help companies to identify contacts and facilitate communication between interested parties whether they are in Azerbaijan or in the United States.

Taking into account business opportunities, the government incentives available both from Azerbaijan and the U.S., the co-investment opportunities with private and public funds, as well as tax breaks and other business perks for the development of non-oil sector, I think that USACC can play vital role in attracting American capital into Azerbaijani economy.

State support and incentives can increase the interest of U.S. businesses to do business with Azerbaijan. Take the agriculture and food processing sector, for example. It is one of the significant employment sectors in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s climatic diversity provides the perfect environment for the cultivation of a wide range of crops. Agricultural processing, including food and beverage processing, is increasing rapidly, with many food products intended for export to CIS, Middle East and EU countries. Consequently, there is a great demand for technology and know-how intended for food processing and packaging for different consumer market segments, especially ready-to-drink and ready-to-eat food and beverage products. You can find many success stories of business ventures in the U.S., where companies were successful in establishing business operations, developing new products and selling them both in domestic and international markets.

Question: What private, government and non-profit organizations USACC sees as either a strategic partner or as a rival?

Answer: USACC is closely cooperating with government institutions both in Azerbaijan and the United States. In Azerbaijan, we can name the Embassy of the United States, AmCham Azerbaijan, AZPROMO, Azerbaijan Investment Company. In the United States, the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington DC, The Global Chamber, DC Export Council, as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, U.S. EXIM Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) – all responsible for international investments, trade and commerce of the United States.

For example, USACC has very good working relationship with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution. OPIC provides investors with financing, political risk insurance, and other forms of business support. Over the past two decades, OPIC has invested around $230 million in Azerbaijan in 24 business projects. While Azerbaijan’s financial services has been the major sector for investments, OPIC is very interested in tapping into other industries as well, such as high technologies, start-ups, agriculture, renewable energy, real estate and tourism. OPIC is not only mandated to lend capital, but also authorized to provide skills, knowledge and technology transfers for businesses overseas. OPIC funded projects include investments in the energy (BTC oil pipeline), franchising, banking, microfinance, hotel and hospitality sectors of Azerbaijan.

For your readers’ information, OPIC managing director Kenneth Angell, who oversees the South Caucasus region will be among the speakers at our Annual Conference. Mr. Angell will talk about how businesses in Azerbaijan can benefit from OPIC financial products and services. OPIC also provides business insurance, which looks very attractive financial product for investors reluctant to invest in emerging and developing markets around the world. Having said that the conference will allow event participants to meet in-person and discuss their potential business projects with OPIC representatives and other companies during their visit to Washington DC.

For example, this year we have few companies from Azerbaijan among the attendees, who operate in microfinance, agriculture (pomegranate growers), beverage manufacturing and in real estate development sectors of Azerbaijan. They are looking for investors, who can invest either in the form of debt or equity in their existing projects. In another example, one of attendees from Azerbaijan is looking for financial leasing of the manufacturing and packaging equipment that he wants to export from the United States vendor. USACC arranged one-on-one meetings with OPIC representatives and some of our members, who provide financial services for clients in emerging markets.

Question: What are the requirements to be the USACC member? And what are the industries your current members do represent?

Answer: USACC has four membership levels open for businesses and individuals operating either in the United States or in Azerbaijan. While benefactor, sustaining and regular memberships are designed for legal entities, the associate level is for individuals only. Each membership level has different benefits and options for members. Depending on membership level, USACC members have access to different services, including access to networking events, as well as other members’ contacts, the use of USACC facility for private meetings, events and company presentations, visa application support, translation and logistics support, and one-time assistance on ad-hoc individual business requests.

As far as your second question concerned, our members include financial institutions, energy firms, law firms, companies specialized in accounting, audit and tax consultancy, manufacturers of durable and non-durable goods, including food and beverage products, construction materials, global transportation and logistics, hospitality, engineering firms, real estate and construction, a company helping to get international trade and export finance, a company providing import-export management and new product development services, a company providing business consulting services, especially on P3 related projects. We also have few individuals as USACC associate members as individual business practitioners.

Having few weeks left until the Conference, I encourage all the interested to consider attending the Conference. For more information about USACC conference please visit the event website: www.usazconference.com

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