Despite the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total trade turnover of goods between Latvia and Azerbaijan in 2020 was 18.08 million euro, increasing by 2.4 percent compared to 2019, Deputy Head of Latvian Mission in Azerbaijan Vija Buša told Trend in an interview.
Buša noted that Azerbaijan is an important partner of Latvia's foreign trade.
Of the 2020 trade turnover volume, exports of goods have amounted to 17.37 million euros, increasing by 2 percent, while imports of goods represented 0.72 million euros, increasing by 11 percent compared to 2019.
"The main categories of goods exported from Latvia to Azerbaijan currently are food products, construction and building materials, wood products, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. The Covid-19 pandemic presents challenges and opportunities. It is great to see that export of food and agricultural products is continuing even in these tough times," she said.
In her words, there are also new opportunities for bilateral trade.
"Just recently, in March, completely new to the market, dairy products were exported to Azerbaijan by dairy production company "Tukuma Piens". Brands of "Baltais", "BaltaisEco", "Exporta" and "Skyr" sour cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products offered at "AZZA" shops and there are plans to increase the export of these products. Also, high-quality seafood was introduced by the "Banga" factory and delicious "Pūre" Chocolate Truffles returned to the customers in Baku," she explained.
Buša said that the bilateral trade in services between Azerbaijan and Latvia decreased significantly in 2020 and amounted to 6 million euros, including 5 million euros worth of exports, and 1 million euros worth of imports.
"The fall is due to travel restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic since mainly services are provided in the transport and travel areas (tourism). By now, the external borders of the EU, as well as the borders of Azerbaijan, remain closed for regular passenger traffic thus very much curbing the cooperation in the service sector, which was usually exceeding one-third of the total bilateral trade turnover," she said.
Buša noted that as soon as the epidemiological conditions will allow, the Latvian side wants to re-establish direct AirBaltic flights on the Riga-Baku route - now, flights are planned from June 2, 2021.
Talking investment cooperation between the two countries, Buša noted that at the end of 2020, Azerbaijan's direct investment balances in Latvia amounted to 17 million euros.
"The Latvian Enterprise Register registers 130 companies with Azerbaijan investments in fixed capital, taking place at 65th investment volume. Major investments of Azerbaijan in Latvia in the hotel, wholesale (including petroleum products), real estate, and catering sectors," she said.
She also emphasized that although there might be no large investment projects, Latvia has identified several economic sectors as priorities for attracting foreign investment:
- smart specialization sectors: ICT, bioeconomy, smart materials and photonics, biomedical and smart energy;
- international business services centers;
- construction, transport, and logistics, if linked to projects in the above-mentioned sectors.
Buša said that Latvia wants to continue joint work and expand cooperation in the implementation of joint cultural, educational and research projects.
"We call upon the Azerbaijani businesspersons to use the three large non-freezing ports for the provision of logistics services in Riga, Ventspils and Liepaja, both on import and export of goods from the European Union. We offer to build own production businesses for efficient distribution in the Northern European region of Latvian ports, using tax reductions and other advantages for the production and processing of goods," she said.
In her words, it is important that the multimodal transport corridors cross Latvia's territory from East to West and North to South.
"The main cargo flow, mostly transit, moves from the East to the West through Latvian ports - connecting Russia, CIS and Asian countries not only with Western Europe but also with the Nordic countries. We also want to develop container train traffic in both Asia and the Black Sea directions, as well as developing sea container lines in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea regions to promote intermodal sea-rail transport services between Europe and Asia through Latvian ports," Buša said.
She noted there are good opportunities to encourage the transit potential of our countries by cooperating in the Eurasian transport networks and using both rail and air transport. It may create new opportunities for transit corridors between Latvia and Azerbaijan, she said.
"It should be underlined that the current bilateral trade volume does not reflect the actual economic potential of our countries. The promising area is green technologies where Latvia has well-developed expertise and knowledge, but it is important to develop cooperation in different fields. The Embassy continues to work on encouraging our entrepreneurs to look for new opportunities and to strengthen trade and economic relations between Latvia and Azerbaijan," Buša added.
She also emphasized that in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing interest of the Azerbaijani students to study in Latvian higher education institutions can be noted.
Buša noted that as a result, 169 students from Azerbaijan are studying in Latvia in the 2020/2021 academic year (168 in the 2019/2020 academic year and 144 in the 2018/2019 academic year).
In the 2020/2021 academic year 9 scholarships were granted for studies and 8 scholarships were granted for participation in international summer schools to students and researchers from Azerbaijan.
"Latvia is interested to promote further cooperation with Azerbaijan in education, particularly in higher education and research, including promoting the mobility of students, researchers, and academic personnel, exchanging information and experience, as well as developing joint projects," she said.
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