By Nigar Orujova
Italian companies have said they are looking at Azerbaijan as a potent alternative to the Russian market in terms of investments, said Federica Guidi, Italian Minister of Economic Development.
The statement was made at an Azerbaijani-Italian business forum in Baku on April 15.
“Italian companies have been recently suffering huge losses on the Russian market,” she said. “That is why they are looking for an alternative to the Russian market. Azerbaijan is one of the most promising markets for Italian entrepreneurs. We are ready to support them [in this area]. This is one of the most important tasks for us."
Italy is interested in cooperation in banking, health care and ecology, she said. "The Italian government maintains relations between the companies of the two countries, because Azerbaijan has great importance for us."
She said that Azerbaijan is the largest supplier of oil to Italy. In addition, the exports from Italy to Azerbaijan increase.
Guidi expressed confidence that trade relations between the two countries will develop in the future.
Among the foreign trade partners of Azerbaijan, this year Italy yielded to the U.S. for the first time, by ranking second. However, the country retained first position among the importers of Azerbaijani products.
The trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $554.8 million (13.73 percent of the total volume of foreign trade operations in Azerbaijan) in January-February 2015, the Azerbaijani State Customs Committee reported. Some $485.7 million accounted for the export. This is 20.8 percent of the country's exports.
Azerbaijan’s Economy and Industry Minister, Shahin Mustafayev said at the event, that Italian companies have invested almost half a billion dollars in Azerbaijan's economy.
“Some 66 companies with Italian capital operate in Azerbaijan, which invested $482 million in the economy of the country, $374 million of which fell on the oil sector,” he said.
In addition, Italian companies are involved in the implementation of eight projects totaling $810 million as contractors, the minister said.
He went on to add that the two countries have great potential for cooperation.
“The relations between Azerbaijan and Italy are very branched,” he said. “Italy has been the main foreign trade partner of Azerbaijan during the last seven years and the volume of trade with Italy is constantly growing.”
Mustafayev mentioned light industry, particularly textiles stand among promising areas of cooperation. He invited Italian companies to participate in Mingachevir industrial park, where they could create appropriate enterprises.
In addition, he said that Azerbaijan and Italy might also develop relations in the tourism sector, adding that the countries already have direct air communication and could arrange reciprocal tours.
Mustafayev also touched the issue of activity of Italian companies on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, saying that this is unacceptable.
“The activity of several Italian companies on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, the organization of tourist trips to these areas, as well as the participation of representatives of the separatist regime of Nagorno-Karabakh in exhibitions and events in Italy are unacceptable,” he said.
The Italian government should take measures to prevent such cases, the minister said.
“It is unacceptable that our partners would work on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” said the minister. “A number of Italian companies operate in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to our information. We have already talked about it with the government of Italy and I would like to once again draw your attention to this issue.”
The twenty-year-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict started with Armenia's territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992, the Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
During the Baku visit, the Italian delegation was received by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Federica Guidi said her visit created a good opportunity to discuss issues related to the development of bilateral relations.
Saying relations between the two countries were successfully developing, President Aliyev underlined the importance of cooperation in the field of energy security. The head of state touched upon the Southern Gas Corridor project, and noted the significance of joint efforts towards the implementation of TANAP project.
The parties discussed the issues of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Italy in the fields of agriculture, high technologies, industry and others.
Nigar Orujova is AzerNews’s staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @o_nigar
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