Trend's exclusive interview with former President of Latvia, Co-Chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center Vaira Vike-Freiberga on the occasion of the 7th Global Baku Forum.
Question: What are your expectations from the 7th Global Baku Forum to be held on March 14-16, 2019 in Baku? How do such platforms contribute to resolving problems and overcoming challenges on the international arena?
Answer: Global Baku Forum is an international gathering that has been growing in size, impact and importance from year to year. Created and organized on the initiative of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center and enjoying the unfailing support and high patronage of the President of Azerbaijan, His Excellency Ilham Aliyev, the Baku Forum is by now well established as a premier yearly meeting place for former and current world leaders, leading thinkers and intellectuals, political analysts and commentators, heads of leading international agencies, foundations, think tanks, non-governmental organizations and journalists. A special program for talented youth from many countries has also become an integral part of the Forum program.
Each year the Baku Forum has chosen a central theme of topical and world-wide importance, and this year the topic will be “A New Foreign Policy”. The past few years have experienced unexpected major shifts in what had long been considered as the relatively stable balance of power and influence between major world powers, as well as the political equilibrium within different political forces in many countries. A number of significant shifts in foreign policy and international relations have become apparent, which are bound to have both direct and indirect influences on all other countries, large, medium and small.
The Baku Forum this year, with a rich and varied program of 10 different panels on topics of crucial importance, will offer the opportunity for major international personalities to share their insights, knowledge and understanding of various aspects of the world situation, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, tolerance and frank exchange of differing views. The views heard and expressed there will get wide international attention and distribution and the name of Baku will ring out in the world with special prestige and distinction.
As someone who has been with the Baku Forum ever since its creation, I have always been impressed by the very special atmosphere of excitement, intellectual stimulation, collegiality and friendship which prevails between all speakers and Forum participants. Both the many world-famous participants who are regulars in the Baku events and those who attend for the first time, are amazed by the brilliance of Baku as a great city, the cultural riches of Azerbaijan as a country, and carry its fame back to their part of the world. For the local participants, the Forum is an opportunity to serve as gracious hosts to the rest of the world, which they have always done in a way which was deeply appreciated by all foreign participants.
Q.: In July 2018, the Trading House of Azerbaijan was opened in Riga, and Latvia plans to open its trading house in Azerbaijan. What are your expectations in this regard from the trade and economic relations between the two countries? Which new spheres seem to be more promising in terms of developing the bilateral cooperation?
A.: Azerbaijan is an important partner for Latvia. Relations between Azerbaijan and Latvia are developing and there is huge potential for the further development of economic cooperation.
We are glad that Azerbaijan decided to open the Trading House in Riga in 2018 to facilitate trade and economic ties with Latvia. We are interested in expanding our economic ties with Azerbaijan.
Our ambition is to become a leading country for ICT in the region, and we have already taken significant steps towards this goal, including significant investment in the development of the information and communication technologies sector.
The Government of Latvia has adopted the concept of a Data Driven Nation. Within this framework, we are inviting our partners to cooperate in the sectors such as bioeconomy, biomedicine, smart technology and smart energy. We see a good potential for our entrepreneurs and scientists to create excellent innovations in those areas.
Latvia is also interested in working together with Azerbaijan on land transport connections between Asia, Central Asia, the Black Sea countries and Northern Europe.
Q.: How can the two countries expand their mutual trade? What new products can Latvia import from Azerbaijan and export to the country?
A.: Azerbaijan is an important partner of Latvia in the South Caucasus. Back when I visited Azerbaijan as President of Latvia, I strongly emphasized the clear commitment of our countries to work together. During my regular visits to Azerbaijan ever since that time, I have been happy to see how well the close cooperation between our states has continued. In June 2017 Latvia and Azerbaijan signed a declaration on strategic partnership, thereby raising our relationship to a new level of quality.
In 2018, the Latvian-Azerbaijani trade volume reached 19.84 million euros, which is an increase of more than 20 percent in comparison to 2017. The main categories of export goods of Latvia to Azerbaijan currently are food products, construction and building materials, wood products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals. We are constantly encouraging entrepreneurs to look for new export markets and hope that more Latvian products ranging from excellent electronic equipment to cosmetics will be available for customers in Azerbaijan.
We would be glad to see Azerbaijani fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets. In April 2019, an Azerbaijani business delegation will visit Latvia, aiming to increase Azerbaijan’s export to Latvia, for which the potential is definitely there.
Q.: What steps should the two countries take to increase the bilateral investment flow? What sectors of the economy should investments be directed to?
A.: Investment is an important part of every country’s economic development. Globalization has created investments in economies around the world.
We already have examples of successful investment in the areas such as wholesale trade, transportation and consulting. Latvia is interested in mutually beneficial investment exchanges. Azerbaijani business has expressed interest in developing cooperation with Latvia in the food, pharmaceutical and industrial sectors and creating agricultural joint ventures. Latvia would welcome investments from Azerbaijan in Latvia’s ports and logistic centers.
Q.: What are the ways to expand cooperation in tourism between Latvia and Azerbaijan?
Tourism in the world today has become a major sector with direct impact on a country’s economy, where people-to-people contacts are of fundamental importance.
A.: We are pleased that our capital cities are linked by direct air traffic. Latvian tourists appreciate Azerbaijani hospitality and ancient culture. Latvian tourists keep returning to Azerbaijan year after year. It is also exciting to see the growth trend of tourism flow from Azerbaijan to Latvia. According to statistics, 2,358 tourists from Azerbaijan visited Latvia in 2017. Medical tourism is a high benefit product and we see a good potential to develop cooperation in this area.
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