By Aynur Jafarova
Turkey leads the way among the countries where Azerbaijan makes investments, Azerbaijani Minister of Economic Development Shahin Mustafayev said at a joint business forum held in Gabala, northern Azerbaijan, last weekend.
According to Mustafayev, the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR plans to invest a total of $17 billion in the Turkish economy by 2018.
Gabala on May 25 hosted the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey business forum, which along with the Azerbaijani economic development minister was attended by Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Secretary General of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States Halil Akinci, as well as more than 250 businessmen from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
Stressing the forum's importance for the development of economic relations between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia, Mustafayev said that the three countries play an essential role in ensuring European energy security and the region's importance is increasing day by day.
Mustafayev went on to say that the trilateral business forum is being held for the third time. The previous forums were held in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and in Kars, Turkey. The Georgian city of Batumi will host the next such event.
The business forum in Gabala was organized by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Economic Development, the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO), the Georgian National Investment Agency "Invest in Georgia" as well as the Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Committee.
During the forum it was noted that Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey intend to begin the implementation of joint projects in other countries.
Minister Mustafayev said the economies of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and the cooperation between them have reached a high level and the three countries may embark on the implementation of joint projects in other countries and make joint investments.
He also said Turkey is a major investor in the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan.
"Turkish companies in Azerbaijan are working as contractors and subcontractors on the projects with participation of the state for a total of $4.7 billion. In recent years, Turkish investment in Azerbaijan's non-oil sector exceeded $1.5 billion. Turkey is the leader in the non-oil investments in Azerbaijan," Mustafayev said.
Currently, there are 2,000 companies with Turkish capital operating in Azerbaijan, which constitutes 36 percent of all foreign companies operating in the country.
The number of Azerbaijani companies operating in Turkey is over 1,100, Mustafayev said.
Azerbaijan's investment in Georgia
Touching on the economic relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia, Mustafayev said that in the last two years, Azerbaijan's investments in Georgia amounted to $210 million. Azerbaijani entrepreneurs are working mainly in the energy, tourism, construction, industry and other sectors. The activities undertaken by SOCAR in Georgia have created conducive conditions for the opening of 7,700 new jobs.
"The trade turnover between the two countries increased in 2012 by 12 percent. Some 150 Georgian companies operate in Azerbaijan, and 300 Azerbaijani entrepreneurs are working in Georgia," the minister said.
On the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, which is under construction, Mustafayev said Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey should work to attract cargo to be transported through the rail line.
"In the future, we should expand the supplies for the BTK railroad and seek to attract the largest possible volume of cargo. Today there is tough competition, so, we need to strengthen the role of the transit corridor. The launch of BTK will create very favorable conditions for cargo transportation from Asia to Europe," Mustafayev said.
According to him, the relations between the three countries have great potential, and transit opportunities significantly increase this potential.
Azerbaijani investment in Turkey
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said that Turkey expects a nearly quadruple increase in Azerbaijani investments in the country.
"According to our estimates, Turkish companies have invested $6.5 billion in Azerbaijan's economy. The volume of Azerbaijani investments in Turkey stands at $4 billion, and we expect this figure to increase to $15 billion in the coming years. This will be achieved through the implementation of oil and chemical projects," Caglayan said.
According to him, to date, Turkish companies have invested $1.1 billion in projects in Georgia, while Georgian investments in Turkey amounted to $23 million.
"The economies of the three countries have high growth prospects. They have demonstrated resilience to the crisis, while many developed countries have suffered great losses. We need to use a solid potential for cooperation between the three countries," Caglayan added.
Speaking at the business forum, Georgian Minister of Economy Giorgi Kvirikashvili said that in the last 10 years, Azerbaijan and Turkey have considerably increased the investment portfolio in Georgia. In addition, there are great opportunities to continue investing in Georgia and Tbilisi is open for such cooperation.
"The purpose of our government is to further improve, simplify the investment and business environment in the country," Kvirikashvili said.
Turkish-Azerbaijani free trade agreement
Minister Caglayan told journalists that Azerbaijan and Turkey are working on signing a free trade agreement.
According to Caglayan, a relevant taskforce is working to prepare this agreement, which will be signed soon.
"This will significantly simplify the trade operations as well as increase the volume of bilateral trade," Caglayan said.
According to the 2012 results, the trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Turkey amounted to $2.12 billion. Turkey ranked first among the foreign trade partners of Azerbaijan in terms of imports, which accounted for 15.75 percent of Azerbaijan's total import volume.