By Nigar Abbasova
Azerbaijan and its southern neighbor Iran continue to explore business opportunities for expanding the economic ties.
An Azerbaijani business delegation, headed by Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev, paid a visit to Iran on February 22-24 and participated in business forums and business meetings in Ardebil and Urmia.
The visit was aimed at bolstering of relations, integration of regional transport networks, as well as implementation of mutually advantageous business projects. Such spheres as agriculture, banking sector, pharmaceutics, as well as cooperation within the international North-South Transport Corridor were in the focus.
Mustafayev, talking about results of the visit, said that the Islamic Republic intends to expand investments in the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan’s economy. He said that Iran has so far invested some $2.7 billion in the Azerbaijani economy, however, most of the investments account for the oil sector.
“Investments in oil sector amounted to $2.6 billion, and Iranian companies have already received a $1.7-billion income from these investments,” Mustafayev said.
The sides anew demonstrated that they are determined to increase their non-oil trade as the current level of cooperation in the sphere is far from the existing potential. Investments in Azerbaijan’s non-oil sector from Iran amounted to only about $150 million, which does not satisfy either of the sides. The trade turnover between the countries hit some $15.77 million in January 2017, while the index of the last year stands at $9.56 million.
Mustafayev went on to add that the two countries have already created several joint ventures and their number will increase in the future. Some 538 companies with Iranian capital are operating in Azerbaijan.
Cooperation may be established between Azerbaijan and Maku Free Trade Zone, Mustafayev said, noting that Urmia`s businessmen would benefit from Azerbaijan`s opportunities and will deliver products to the foreign markets.
Iranian ICT Minister Mahmoud Vaezi, who headed Iranian delegation, earlier said that the two countries would work to decrease dependence on oil.
He said that political and economic ties between the two countries have increased in recent years and the two sides have made serious efforts to boost mutual ties, mentioning that grounds have already been prepared for private sector investors from the two countries to launch mutual cooperation.
Cooperation in the banking sphere was also discussed during the visit. Mustafayev said that an Azerbaijani bank will soon open its branch in Iran, thus expanding Azerbaijan’s banking sector in the country.
“I cannot say what bank it will be, but, I want to note that now work is underway to create a relevant legal base. Besides, the issue of raising the status of the Baku branch of Bank Melli Iran is being considered,” he said.
Iran's Central Bank Chief Valiollah Seif earlier told Trend that it is planned to create a new bank with 100 percent of Iranian capital in Azerbaijan. He said Bank Melli Iran’s branch in Azerbaijan will turn into an independent Azerbaijani bank, and all the shares of the new bank will be owned by Bank Melli Iran.
Expansion of the ties in aviation sector was also high on agenda. The number of non-stop flights between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Azerbaijan is expected to be increased in the short run. Mustafayev said that non-stop flight between Gabala and Urmia are planned to be operated in the near future.
"We have well established air links with Iran. Ten flights are carried out to Tehran, six flights to Tabriz and six flights to Mashhad in a week. Currently, work is underway to establish air service between Gabala and Urmia. All economic and technical aspects on this issue have already been discussed,” Mustafayev said.
The minister added that the flights will be carried out by the Azerbaijani and Iranian companies on the basis of the principle of parity.
The tourist flow between the two countries intensified with the introduction of simplified visa regime, which has come into force starting from January 10, 2017. Iranian citizens became eligible to register visas for entry into Azerbaijan via the ASAN Viza system, as a result of which, they got a right to obtain visas within three days.
Since February 2010, Iran unilaterally abolished its visa regime for all citizens of Azerbaijan. The citizens of Azerbaijan can travel to Iran and stay in the country without visa from 15 to 90 days.
The Islamic Republic may also join Azerbaijan-Georgia- Turkey trilateral format of cooperation.
“We recently held the 5th business forum in a trilateral format between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The next similar forum will be held in Azerbaijan and we want to hold it in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. This step can attract Iran to this format, leading to future quadrilateral business forums. We want to attract Iran to this event as well and we are working in this direction,” Mustafayev said.
The minister added that work is also underway to create a trilateral cooperation format between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran.
Azerbaijan and Iran have signed two memorandums of understanding as part of a joint business forum in Ardabil.
The memorandums were signed by Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO), Azerbaijani National Confederation of Entrepreneurs (Employers') Organizations and Ardabil Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.
Nigar Abbasova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @nigyar_abbasova
Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz